by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Imagine being a young adult who came to this country with your parents when you were two years old.
You have gone to school in the United States. All your friends live in the United States. The only nation you have ever known is the United States. Your dream is to go to college, get a job, marry and raise a family in the only nation you have ever known.
The only complication is that your parents entered the United States illegally. You live every day under the threat of being deported to a country where you never lived and where you know no one. You are not able to get a driver’s license, a Social Security card and cannot legally work. You love the United States. You want to be a contributing member of American society, but you are forced to live in the shadows with the constant threat of being uprooted from all that is familiar to you.
It is young people, like the one described above, that illustrate why we need immigration reform. Our country needs young workers as part of the solution to funding Social Security and Medicare. We have a pool of them available in our nation, but we make it impossible for them to be employed legally.
For the first time in years, there is hope that Congress might pass immigration re- form legislation. The immigration debate has polarized our nation for too long. It is time that our lawmakers enact a solution that protects our borders and effectively prevents future illegal immigration, as well as creates a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants who are law-abiding and want to pursue the American dream of freedom and opportunity for themselves and their families.
Our nation has a rich history of welcoming immigrants. Except for those with Native American ancestry, we are a nation of immigrants. This has been one of the strengths of the United States. People from all over the world still de- sire to come to the United States because we are a
free society that provides opportunities for prosperity to anyone who is willing to work hard.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of foreign-born population in the United States today is not as high as it was from 1860-1920. For example, in 1870, the foreign born was 14.4 percent of the U.S. population; in 1890, 14.8 percent; in 1910, 14.7 percent; in 1920, 13.2 percent. From the 1930s through the 1960s, the percentage of foreign-born population steadily decreased until it reached levels lower than that of 1850. Beginning in the 1970s that trend reversed until, in 2010, it was back to a more normal level of 12.9 percent.
In the Old Testament, the Lord constantly challenges the Israelites to welcome the alien, remembering that they once were aliens themselves in the land of Egypt. If you recall your Bible history, the sons of Jacob immigrated to Egypt because they were experiencing famine in their own country.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
“Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens” (No. 2241).
As I read about the immigrants who came to Kansas City, Kan., a few generations ago, many came to work on the railroads or in the meatpacking plants. They were filling jobs that most U.S. citizens did not find attractive. Today, we see very similar trends. Many of the meat-processing plants in western Kansas would be shut down were it not for the immigrant workers.
Immigration policy is a federal issue. It is a matter that cannot be resolved by the states because, for good order, we need to have a uniform and consistent policy across our nation. Now appears to be a time where there is legitimate hope that Congress may take action.
I encourage you to, first of all, pray that Congress will enact comprehensive immigration reform that will protect the integrity of our nation’s borders, will create pathways for legal residency for law-abiding and hard-working undocumented immigrants, and will be consistent with our nation’s history of welcoming the stranger.
Secondly, I encourage you to write, email or phone Sen. Pat Roberts, Sen. Jerry Moran, and your U.S. representative (Kevin Yoder or Lynn Jenkins), urging them to support immigration reform.
The words on the base of the Statue of Liberty from the poem, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, represent the unique and noble American attitude to immigration: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The United States, in the words of Emma Lazarus, is a golden door to freedom and opportunity. This was true for our ancestors who came to the United States seeking a better way of life for themselves and their descendants.
May it continue to be true today for those yearning to breathe free.