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Column: Tone down the rhetoric and let’s work the problem


by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

President Obama’s announcement last week that he will use executive orders to grant protection from deportation for three years, as well as grant work permits to approximately 4.1 million parents of children who are legal U.S. citizens, has sparked both heated criticism and exuberant praise.

Through similar executive orders, President Obama has also granted protections and opportunities to another 300,000 individuals who were illegally brought as minors to this country.

In reaction to the president’s announcement, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, stated: “We have a long history of welcoming and aiding the poor, the outcast, the immigrant, and the disadvantaged. Each day, the Catholic Church in the United States in her social service agencies, hospitals, schools, and parishes witnesses the human consequences of the separation of families, when parents are deported from their children or spouses from each other.”

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, the president of the USCCB, observed: “There is an urgent pastoral need for a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law. As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, said so eloquently: ‘Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.’”

An August 2013 statement by the USCCB Office of Policy and Public Affairs, summarizing the teaching on migration contained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, stated:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) instructs the faithful that good government has two duties, both of which must be carried out and neither of which can be ignored. The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations: ‘The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and 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’ (2241).

“The second duty is to secure one’s border and enforce the law for the
sake of the common good. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect the legitimate exercise of this right: ‘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’” (2241).

I think most people will agree the rights and responsibilities outlined in the Catechism are balanced and reasonable. The problem is how do you renew and reform an immigration system that has ignored for so long both duties of good government.

According to the USCCB Office of Policy and Public Affairs, only 5,000 green cards are available annually for low-skilled workers. A green card does not grant its holder citizenship, but the right for residence and the freedom to pursue steady employment in the United States. It is true that our government grants many more green cards than 5,000, but they are to immigrants that bring skills, expertise and talents that will benefit our nation.

It is also true that our nation grants many more temporary work visas for those seeking seasonal employment, especially for agricultural workers. However, these do not provide long-term solutions for those seeking the opportunity to provide for the basic needs of their families.

Despite all of our problems, we remain a financially blessed nation. How can we be so stingy in welcoming immigrants who are seeking the same opportunity that brought our ancestors to this nation?

Similarly, our government has done a very poor job securing our borders. Both for national security and the good order of society, our government needs to regulate who enters our country and to know who is residing within our borders.

There is a strong consensus among Americans and our elected officials that the current system is broken. The vast majority of Americans agree on the importance of border security. Similarly, most Americans also are proud of our history of welcoming immigrants and want our nation to continue this tradition in our time.

If the preceding is true, then why have we failed for decades to reform our immigration system and to protect our borders? It is my personal opinion that reasonable reform efforts have been stymied because both political parties have been more interested in gaining political advantage than solving the underlying problems.

President Obama had the opportunity during his first two years in office, when his party had majorities in both chambers of Congress, to exert leadership and reform our immigration policies. In my opinion, he chose not to do so because of fear of the political consequences.

Similarly, President George W. Bush supported comprehensive immigration reform, but did not receive support from members of his own party in passing a bipartisan plan.

This is simply not acceptable. Our current immigration policies and the manner that they are being enforced are harming millions of individuals and families.

Statistics can be cold and impersonal. However, each number contained in the statistics of the undocumented residents represents a real person, with a real family.

Think about your own family history. What if your ancestors who immigrated to the United States were denied entrance or not granted legal status? How very different your life would be today.

There is no denying that the issues involved are complex. How do we protect our borders and be generous in allowing individuals and families to enter our nation legally? How do we allow economic opportunity for immigrants without jeopardizing the employment opportunities for those who are already citizens? How do we regulate the flow of immigrants so as not to overwhelm the health care systems and educational institutions, especially in border states?

Yet, the opportunities are also enormous. The enthusiasm of immigrants for American ideals has always re-invigorated our nation. We need young workers to help fund
Social Security for senior citizens. We know from past experience the children and grandchildren of immigrants will be the innovators and leaders for the next generations.

I pray that the new Congress will accept the challenge of the president to enact legislation that will provide a balanced and enduring solution to our current immigration problems. The president must also be willing to work with Congress and not just dictate the terms for reform. Both parties need to tone down the rhetoric, stop looking for opportunities to gain political advantage and create an immigration policy that protects the integrity of our nation and opens up a world of opportunity for millions of families. We are America. We can do this!


About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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