January 7, 2011


Renewing hope, seeking justice

This week is National Migration Week, declared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It began on last Sunday, the feast of Epiphany. The week has been observed now for over a quarter century. The theme this year is “Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice.”

Following the lead of Pope Benedict XVI, who is focusing on migrant families for his 2011 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message, the bishops have decided to focus on the family as a sub-theme this year. A poster distributed by the conference’s Migration and Refugee Services shows the Holy Family resting during its immigration into Egypt to escape King Herod’s soldiers.

Contrary to what many people believe, the Church does not encourage illegal immigration. It wants our laws to be changed so that people who are suffering tremendous poverty and hardships can immigrate to our country legally.

The bishops’ “Justice for Immigrants” campaign reflects five specific immigration reform goals articulated by the bishops’ Committee on Migration:

  • Bring the undocumented population in this country out of the shadows and give them a chance, over time, to achieve permanent residency and citizenship.
  • Preserve family unity by strengthening family-based immigration.
  • Create legal avenues for migration so that migrant workers, who labor in many important industries in our nation, are able to enter the country legally, and in a safe and orderly fashion.
  • Give immigrants their day in court consistent with American values by restoring due process protections that were removed in 1996 legislation.
  • Work with neighboring countries and the international community to address the root causes of migration, such as economic inequalities, so that immigrants and their families can remain in their home countries and support their families in dignity.

The bishops’ website says that Catholic social teaching provides the foundation on which the Church addresses issues related to migration.

Reflecting on both Scripture and Church tradition, the bishops developed a set of moral principles to inform the decision-making process of policymakers as they address legislation related to these issues.

The Church recognizes that there has to be a careful balance between the rights of migrants to move due to economic necessity and the rights of sovereign states to govern their borders. Particularly vulnerable populations, such as unaccompanied children, should be given special attention and care.

In 2003, the bishops of the United States and Mexico issued a pastoral letter to provide points of reflection for all Catholics to use as they consider the issues surrounding illegal immigration, migrants, refugees and other people on the move. The five basic principles articulated in “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” are:

  • Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
  • Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
  • Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
  • Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
  • The human dignity and human rights of all migrants should be respected.

While American companies, especially those in the agricultural field, are clamoring for more workers to do the work that Americans seem to refuse to do, people from Mexico and other Latin American countries are unable to migrate to the United States because the quotas for those people are too low.

The cap today for highly skilled migrants, known as the H1B visa, is 65,000 per year. H1B migrants can stay for a maximum of six years then must leave the United States. For non skilled, non-agricultural workers, the quota is 5,000, making it nearly impossible for a Mexican man, for example, to come in legally.

The United States has always been a country of immigrants, but those immigrants, unfortunately, have always had a difficult time being accepted. As our country ages, we need immigrants as much as any time in our history.

At the same time, we should do what we can to help those countries that are not as wealthy as ours, the fifth bullet point of the bishops’ “Justice for Immigrants” reform goals mentioned above, so that people don’t have to risk their lives to come to this country. They come in most cases because they are desperate to be able to support their families. We must help them.

—John F. Fink

Local site Links: