Immigration is not an easy issue to write about because it is so easy to be misunderstood or labelled politically.
Sometimes I find that my "conservative" friends think that talking compassionately about migrants is a "liberal" thing.
Of course, I get the opposite from my "liberal" friends who think that speaking about the moral depravity of procured abortion (as we will during the week of 22 January) is a "conservative" thing.
As Catholics, our positions do not easily fit political categories.
We Catholics defend, protect, and advocate for life in every situation, everywhere. Political labels like "liberal" or "conservative" sometimes get in the way. In fact, we Catholics, through our social teachings, know that the Church must inform the political order, not the other way round.
The United States Catholic Bishops have asked all people of good will to be more conscious of the needs of Migrants. They have asked the Church to commemorate National Migration Week from 2 through 8 January 2011 with the theme "Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice." You might want to check out their website on this - www.usccb.org/mrs/nmw/
Pope Benedict XVI has written often about Migrants (on World Migrant Days, for example); many popes have done so previously. It is certainly not something at the periphery of Catholic teaching. The Holy Family were migrants in Egypt, much like the Jewish People were before them. The Church, being Catholic, is concerned that we human beings treat one another justly as brothers and sisters.
We Catholic Americans in particular ought to be sensitive to this issue since so many of our families came, not too long ago, to this great country as immigrants. I think of Emma Lazarus' famous sonnet in this regard:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
My family arrived here poor. Mine is the American story, not unique, but all the more profound because we share the story. My great grandparents came from Ireland and Germany and from Slovakia (then the Austrio-Hungarian Empire).
They passed the Statue of Liberty and thought of their future.
Now, I think of them when I pass Lady Liberty.
I think of us too.
I think of this nation of poor immigrants.
I think of the Polish priests and nuns who taught me,
my Italian piano teacher,
my Colombian childhood friend
my Indian kindergarten classmate
my Korean high school student
my African-American colleague at Turner-Carroll
my many Irish relatives.
I think America is at its best when it embraces the poor immigrant family.
I think this is one of the reasons we are the greatest nation on earth.
But, of course, it is more than an American issue.
My German students often speak of the Turkish migrants in their country.
My time in Egypt made me aware of the numerous refugees from Sudan.
My French readings remind me of the many Algerian immigrants in Paris and Marseilles.
Teaching on the border between Thailand and Burma, I saw firsthand the everyday "migrations" of young students so they could simply go to school.
England is dealing with the many Pakistani immigrants in their nation.
Immigration is a global issue.
America is far from alone dealing with this issue.
The Immigration issue is fundamentally about human dignity.
Contrary to a lot of nonsense out there, no one is claiming that illegal immigration is to be encouraged. Quite the opposite. In fact, it is precisely here where the role of the Catholic Church on this issue can be most appreciated. It seeks to insure human rights while acknowledging the reality of national interests.
The Church looks at the systemic issues, not just the political "quick-fixes" that so often do more harm than good. The Church, this Mystical Body of Christ continuing Jesus' teaching in the modern world, seeks economic justice, human dignity and the common good -- EVERYWHERE and for EVERYONE. Remember - we are brothers and sisters regardless of race, creed, or nationality.
It is clear that there are no "easy" answers to the practical problems of migrants and immigrants; however; it is equally clear that it is sinful to think of the problem without thinking of the people.
It is clearly sinful to maltreat the poor, to ignore the hungry, or to deny the reality of international economic injustice. Human beings do not lose their right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness just because they don't carry the right "papers." They were endowed by their Creator with those rights.
Rational men and women can, and do, disagree about HOW to address the issues of migration / immigration. We need wise, educated, orthodox, conscientious, lay Catholic leaders in the political forum. While we wait, all American Catholics have a moral obligation to speak out clearly on this issue. We cannot simply stand by while some of our elected officials sweep this issue under the rug, or worse, suggest immoral solutions that treat poor people with disdain or contempt.
I encourage you to study the Church's substantial teachings on this subject. Let the Church inform you, not just TV news stations or talk radio. In fact, may I suggest that we spend as much time studying the Church's teaching as we do watching/listening to the "news." The "news" often accents problems over solutions, and extreme positions over moderate wisdom. This seems particularly true on the immigration issue because of the passions it engenders. Please let the Church's teaching inform your conscience.
The social teachings of the popes are available on http://www.vatican.va/. Also, please check out the United States Bishops' website - http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/ and note the common misconceptions section in particular.
Let us pray for migrants, for immigrants, and for wise political leadership, especially during this National Migration Week, 2011. Let us do more than pray...let us stand up for the poor and marginalized pilgrim people of God.