This month the new 110th Congress will convene and hopefully it will take up the unfinished business of comprehensive immigration reform. The results of last November elections will be debated for some time to come. However, it is clear that neo-nativist restrictionism championed on some radio and T.V. talk shows had no traction. Candidates that backed a broad approach to immigration problems fared much better than those who espoused “enforcement only” or “enforcement first” positions.
The December raids by the U.S. government targeted at meat packing facilities in Colorado and at other sites across the country demonstrate that our nation lacks a sensible immigration policy. While the U.S. government has a right to enforce immigration laws, these raids do not represent either the most humane or effective approach to a problem that begs to be addressed. Our lawmakers do have an obligation to do just that and fix a broken system – the laws on the books are simply inadequate and antiquated and do not serve the best interests of our nation, nor do they advance the common good.
A more congruent immigration system must recognize that our country needs immigrant workers to fill crucial jobs in important industries and therefore should grant these workers the protection of our laws so they can work without fear. The consequences of the recent roundups are affecting families across the United States, including family members who are legal residents or U.S. citizens. Family and friends are terrified at the sudden loss of a loved one and live in fear of who is next. Children discovered they had no parent to meet them after school, not knowing where they were. A mother learned that her husband and father of her children is gone, she has no money to pay the bills and does not know when she and the children will see him again. And while public officials have explained the reason for these raids as criminal identity theft, most of the real criminals – the people who steal and sell the false identities so that undocumented immigrants can find work – were not among those arrested.
The xenophobic politics of 2006 focused on the “illegal immigrant” as a problem and thus obscured the human face of immigration. Dramatic, get-tough arrests of more and more average workers will not solve our immigration crisis. In fact, such actions often engender more confusion and bitterness. The real problem is not the immigrant but the broken system that cynically tolerates a growing underclass of vulnerable people, outside the protection of the law. Their labor is needed yet the present immigration regime does not provide them or their employers with the necessary avenues which would allow them to access the system and become legal. No human being should be reduced to being a “problem”. Such reductive thinking demonizes the “illegal immigrant” and ultimately dehumanizes us all.
Catholic social teaching insists on the dignity of each human being, a dignity that all our laws should respect and promote from the moment of conception till natural death. National Migration Week celebrated in Catholic parishes throughout the United States between January 7th and 13th underscores the dignity of the immigrant with its theme, “Welcoming Christ in the Migrant”. The Catholic bishops recognize the need for a strong, clear and fair immigration policy. And for this reason, we continue to call for a comprehensive reform of the present broken system. A comprehensive reform would provide a path for regularizing the status of the 10 million or so undocumented while, at the same time, provide for future labor needs by offering employers the opportunity, if needed, to bring in legal workers on temporary visas and clear up the backlogs that keep U.S. residents and citizens from reuniting with family members in a timely manner. Comprehensive immigration reform can promote our country’s security and prosperity and at the same time be based on the moral values that truly reflect the spirit of America.
This year, Congress has the opportunity to get it right and enact a comprehensive reform of our Immigration laws. To do so would enhance respect for the “rule of law” necessary for society to prosper and would in no way threaten national security. To do so would be to promote justice which must be the motivation behind all lawmaking.