Friday, April 21, 2006

Immigration Reform and the Catholic Church

This post gives a round-up of the support being offered by the Catholic Church calling for dignity and respect towards undocumented immigrants in American society.

First, there's a new poll out trying to make sense of the dynamics being played out between the GOP and the Catholics.
The national immigration debate is muddying Republican relations with Roman Catholics — coveted swing voters who comprise about one-quarter of the electorate.

While Catholic bishops and many Republican politicians share opposition to abortion, they're often split over the specifics of immigration reform. Church leaders are challenging — and in some cases even vowing to defy — the tougher enforcement proposals by GOP lawmakers.


Catholics in AP-Ipsos polling were more likely than Protestants and white evangelicals to support allowing immigrants to be temporary workers and to oppose making it a serious crime to be in this country without documentation.
The article examines the rightward trending that has occurred over the past 30 years from a decidely Democratic affiliation among the laity to George Bush winning a majority of Catholic voters against a Catholic nominee (Kerry). The tilt has been felt in the pews as we still deal with the backlash against the Second Vatican Council.

Regarding immigration, the U.S. Bishops are virtually united in solidarity with those seeking a better life. Here's an excerpt from the Justice for Immigrants webcenter outlining myths in the debate.

Today’s immigrants are different than those of 100 years ago

  • The percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born now stands at 11.5%; in the early 20th century it was approximately 15%. Similar to accusations about today’s immigrants, those of 100 years ago initially often settled in mono-ethnic neighborhoods, spoke their native languages, and built up newspapers and businesses that catered to their fellow émigrés. They also experienced the same types of discrimination that today’s immigrants face, and integrated within American culture at a similar rate. If we view history objectively, we remember that every new wave of immigrants has been met with suspicion and doubt and yet, ultimately, every past wave of immigrants has been vindicated and saluted.

(Source: Census Data:,

Most immigrants cross the border illegally

  • Around 75% of today’s immigrants have legal permanent (immigrant) visas; of the 25% that are undocumented, 40% overstayed temporary (non-immigrant) visas.

(Source: Department of Homeland Security (

Weak U.S. border enforcement has lead to high undocumented immigration

  • From 1986 to 1998, the Border Patrol’s budget increased six-fold and the number of agents stationed on our southwest border doubled to 8,500. The Border Patrol also toughened its enforcement strategy, heavily fortifying typical urban entry points and pushing migrants into dangerous desert areas, in hopes of deterring crossings. Instead, the undocumented immigrant population doubled in that timeframe, to 8 million—despite the legalization of nearly 3 million immigrants after the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Insufficient legal avenues for immigrants to enter the U.S., compared with the number of jobs in need of workers, has significantly contributed to this current conundrum.

(Source: Immigration and Naturalization website:

Those are government websites backing up the mythbusting Who knew that facts were so important?... [raised eyebrow]

Social justice movements within the Church are also firmly planted on the side of immigrants, as they should be. Here's the link and an excerpt to the policy paper issued by Catholic Charities, entitled Justice for Newcomers.
Just and comprehensive policies addressing the needs of newcomers – as well as the security and economic health of our nation – should be a priority as Congress seeks to reform our nation’s immigration laws. The positions of Catholic Charities USA are deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching and our local agencies’ experiences in providing services to nearly half a million immigrants. Our agencies have been working with immigrants for more than 100 years, and experience first hand the economic and political forces that cause people to seek a better life in the United States, as well as the impact of current immigration policies that keep an estimated 11 million undocumented persons in the shadows, separate families and disrupt family life, and cause undue hardship to those who are working hard and building their own American dream.
The fact that the Church is siding with *gasp* the political left on this issue has sent people like Bill O'Reilly into frothing mad tantrums. Who knew that choosing to be non-partisan was such an issue? (I kid, I kid.)

Anywho, two more links that I think are relevant for understanding why the Catholic Church has more power in this discussion than most people realize. The first is a .pdf from the Arizona Catholic Conference, which is comprised of the Bishops in the state as well as Gallup, NM which extends into parts of northern Az, aptly titled You Welcomed Me.

The last linkage is to an interview with Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of the Diocese of Washington D.C. (soon to be retired) and probably the most powerful prelate in the country, with Cardinal Mahoney of L.A. not far behind. My favorite part, for obvious reasons (it discusses economic policies):

What, to you, are the most essential changes to make?

First of all, we need to cooperate with other countries so people can stay where they are. The most important right people have is the right to make it where they have roots planted. If that doesn't happen, often because of economic policies of well-developed nations, that's something we have to look at. We [should] help other countries develop economically themselves, so people aren't forced to look around [for] a place to find a better life.

I applaud the bishops and cardinals for taking a stand for human rights. For far too long, the pulpits have been used to divide and condemn, rather than empower the people in the pews to treat everyone with the dignity and respect that is deserved and mandated by the teachings of Jesus. Here's a prayer and a candle-lighting from someone who wishes to see a resurgence of the Catholicism that was practiced by admirable human beings like Dorothy Day and Óscar Romero.

Paz y amistad por todos.

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