With the cacophony of opinions clashing on the Donald Trump-Pope Francis cyber conversation, another voice is hardly necessary. But since I haven’t read too many immigrants or immigration lawyers voices in the Catholic blogosphere, I won’t hesitate to regale you with my take-away from the controversy.
The broiling issue of immigration is one to which I am convicted and affected. Like most aliens (before the days of political correctness, that’s what immigrants were called), I moved to the United States with a dream. I entered with proper documents and waited my turn at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. As did most of your ancestors and my children’s paternal ancestors.
When I recall skimming my hands down the list of last names of arriving passengers at Ellis Island, I remember the American immigrant saints like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Francis Cabrini and Blessed Francis Seelos. They must empathize with the unique experience of living as a stranger between two cultures, becoming a missionary for the Church, and laboring toward a shared dream.
I am profoundly grateful that America, in her generosity, took me in. The more I learn about American history, the more I marvel at the great and noble men who shaped this country and our God who blessed it abundantly.
During the years I practiced, I met countless of immigrants who crossed the border illegally. The situation in their countries of origin is unlike my sheltered middle-class background. Theirs is far from ideal, which explains why they risked lives in crossing the deserts of Nogales or Tijuana, entrusting their future to “coyotes”. Toilet-less huts without running water, sleeping on dirt floors, neighborhood armed conflict, rebel and drug wars uncontrolled by local police, religious and political persecution, war-torn refugee camps, sex slavery are some real life testimonies I’ve heard. They hoped a life of toil in America harvesting potatoes, constructing high rises, driving school buses, bussing tables, cleaning apartments, teaching in classrooms or nursing patients, would secure their children’s future.
If you heard their before and after stories like I did, you might have gotten emotional when Pope Francis emphasized during his last visit in his address to Congress, “We must not be taken aback by the [refugees] numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.” I felt the same surge of emotion when a client hugged me after successfully processing an inter-country adoption and a naturalization ceremony.
The Catholic Social Teaching on immigration encourages us to welcome the stranger among us, “for in this encounter with the immigrant and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ.” Among the five principles outlined from the teachings, two key polarizing principles surface:
“When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive… The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth.”
Seeing Jesus in the innocent immigrant, migrant or refugee was one of the better moments of my career. Admittedly, it was not always easy to recognize Jesus in disguise. There were a handful of foreign-born individuals who were inadmissible (or deportable) by law. Under U.S. Code Sec 1182, an immigrant must not have been convicted with essential elements of a crime of moral turpitude, or other degrees of involvement in money laundering, violation of a drug laws, prostitution, human trafficking offenses, terrorist activities, and other crimes that Donald Trump rightly believes make an immigrant a questionably upstanding member of society.
As with all laws, current immigration laws can stand to be tweaked and improvised. The details of those I will leave to the American immigration lawyers association (AILA) to recommend and for Congress to debate. I don’t have all the solutions and I am not a politician called to implement policies. But I strive to do three things from where I am as a Catholic trying to live out my religion and politics in an imperfect world. So can you:
First, read and react responsibly. This means never taking the secular media news about Pope Francis at face value. Research on reliable sources, wait for them to emerge and place so-called quotes within the proper context before reacting. Educate or re-educate yourself on the actual Church teaching at issue. Understanding the Church’s position on immigration concerns the plight of developing countries and the God-given right of all people to “to conditions worthy of human life and if these conditions are not present, the right to migrate.” (Exsul Familia). In the encyclical Pacem in Terris, St. Pope John Paul II wrote, “When there are just reasons for it, [human beings] have the right to emigrate to other countries.” Immigration can be reconciled with the right of nations to protect its citizens from harm and provided that “the public wealth does not forbid this.” Discuss the issues (not the personalities) with kindness.
Two, be welcoming to immigrants as the Church challenges you. Scripture says, “You must be merciful to the alien for you were strangers yourselves. (Deut 10:19)” Reach out to the cultural minorities in your parish or workplace. Who doesn’t ever appreciate a welcome mat extended? Listen to our stories, sample our culture and teach us some of yours. We’ll both be richer from building bridges; its almost like traveling, minus the airfare.
Three, be charitable to citizens of developing countries. Factor into your budget donations to grassroots organizations for developing countries. Forego getting that brand new RV or boat or cut your wardrobe size to half. You don’t have to get the latest i-phone or flat screen TV. Consuming less means more sacrifices, but freeing up your resources to share. Five dollars goes a long way in Haiti. If you and I helped needy people in developing countries more, they won’t need to cross the border. They will be free to dream big dreams in their homeland.
Its for good reason that the Old and New Testaments make special mention to befriend and be merciful to strangers. The Israelites were aliens and Jesus was a refugee, so its not a far stretch to grasp Our Lord’s own teaching, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do it to me.”
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