New optimism for immigration reform
"Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope." This is the title given to the historic pastoral letter on migration issued jointly by the Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States in 2003 — historic because this is the first time the bishops of our two countries have spoken together, with one voice and in one statement, on such an important moral and social concern. It is also historic in the sense that it lays out in one place Catholic social teaching as it applies to migration.
The pastoral letter received its impetus at a meeting of the Catholic bishops of the dioceses along the border between Mexico and Texas. In the year 2000 they wrote a letter to the presidents of the Mexican and U.S. Conferences of Catholic Bishops expressing their concern for the loss of life and destruction of family life resulting from existing immigration policies and practices. Then, in the year 2001, members of the USCCB Committee on Migration and of the Mexican Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Human Mobility began meeting to discuss their mutual concerns, and meetings were held with Church leaders from both countries all across the U.S.-Mexico border. Not only did all of this hard work produce this landmark document, but also the companion "Justice for Immigrants" campaign to educate our people in the parishes on all of the various aspects of this complex reality. From the moral standpoint, "Strangers No Longer" lists five principles which, it says, "guide the Church's view on migration issues" (n. 33):
• Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
• Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
• Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
• Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
• The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
Despite all of these hopes and hard work, the effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform has nonetheless been filled with frustration and procrastination.
For a change, however, we have recently been given something to cheer about in this effort with President Obama signing an executive order granting protection from deportation to young people who would be eligible under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. The DREAM Act applies to people who arrived in this country without proper documentation before the age of 16 (usually brought here by their parents), have graduated from high school or obtained a G.E.D. and have maintained good moral character. As the president explained, these young people identify as Americans and often feel no connection to the country they were born in; sometimes, in fact, they do not even speak its language, and are surprised to learn that they are undocumented.
Because the DREAM Act respects such a positive move forward in promoting the moral principles which any just immigration reform policy must uphold, the U.S. bishops have been supporting it ever since the original version was first introduced in Congress back in 2001.
While this act of our president gives us cause for encouragement, I would have to agree with Archbishop Gomez who stated that an executive order is no excuse for failing to act on immigration reform legislatively. Indeed, while we hope that this act of the executive branch will serve as a catalyst, by itself it is not nearly robust enough to secure for these young people a path to citizenship and a chance to become legally recognized Americans. It is proper to the legislative branch of the government, i.e., Congress, to enact such a permanent fix. I would encourage all of our people to inform themselves on this critical issue and to make their voices heard to our public officials. (Extensive information can be found at www.justiceforimmigrants.org.)
To understand the heart of the vision of "Strangers No Longer," we need look no further than the title. These words come from Ephesians 2:19: ". . . you are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God."
This teaching falls within the context of St. Paul's elaboration of his theology of revelation and redemption. He tells his fellow Christians at Ephesus that in former times they had been "excluded" from the people of God but now God has given the privilege of His self-revelation to all people through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ on the Cross.
The vision, then, is of one people, reconciled to each other in Christ, and through Christ reconciled to God the Father, a vision of disparate peoples who find a new peace and unity with each other through the revelation of God's saving action.
This means, therefore, that if we are to be people of God, we cannot allow differences to be causes of division and hostility. Rather, we are to welcome persons of all cultures and languages as brothers and sisters.
As Blessed Pope John Paul II put it in his Message for World Migration Day in 1996:
"The Church considers the problem of illegal migrants from the standpoint of Christ, who died to gather together the dispersed children of God (cf. Jn 11:52), to rehabilitate the marginalized and to bring close those who are distant, in order to integrate all within a communion that is not based on ethnic, cultural or social membership, but on the common desire to accept God's word and to seek justice. 'God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him' (Acts 10:34-35)."