BROTHERS AND SISTERS TO US
I have been thinking a lot since Arizona passed and the governor signed the most restrictive immigration legislation possibly in the history of the nation. Like most of you, I believe the federal government has the right and the duty to secure our borders, north and south. The US has always been a welcoming/receiving nation and most of us can trace our own family’s presence to a decision by an ancestor to immigrate – albeit legally.
But what happens when our nation fails to secure the borders and people by the thousands cross it. Two realities, of course: they are illegally present and they have broken the law. We could stop right there and say “that’s the end of it.” But as you and I know, it is not. These people, illegally present, often find their way into work which no one else wants to do for a compensation that continues to make it possible for Americans to eat cheaply (compared to the cost of food in other countries), sleep in clean frooms, repair our roofs at a pittance of what it would cost if others could be found to do this hot, oppressive work, etc. These illegals live beneath their dignity as made in the image and likeness of God, are terrified to sign their names to anything for fear of discovery and deportation, and are generally unappreciated and often reviled in their presence. In other words, we profit from the sweat of their brow but complain about their presence.
To add to the dilemma, most of them are Catholics, brothers and sisters to us. They hold the Blessed Mother as Our Lady of Guadalupe in the highest esteem and seek to be welcomed in the Church of their baptism. Sadly, like the nation, we fail them more often than we meet their expectations. Polls show that Catholic attitudes toward illegal immigrants are as vehemently held as those of others in our US society. What a shame! What a sin!
Racial profiling is also a sin against humanity and the law of God. Read the bibles of the Third Reich and grasp a picture of what racial, ethnic, religious profiling can give birth to. In the United States we have always been against racial profiling, as a nation. Majority opinion has always stood against it. And it happens right in our midst. At a FAST Nehemiah conference I listened as a member of our Church, a Mexican legally present in our country for a number of years, described being stopped in a Pinellas County community and aggressively interrogated by the police only to ultimately be let go without so much as an “I’m sorry.” This man is a member of the parish council of one of our larger parishes. I believed him and so did most of those present who heard his story but I am not sure that the mayor of the community where it happened did.
That’s what can possibly happen in Arizona now. A Hispanic can be stopped, aggresively questioned, just because he or she looks Mexican. It’s not the American way.
So what can be done. Well, if we can put women and men on Mars as President Obama suggests we can, can we not secure the 2000 mile border to the South? We need to start with a good federal program of containment. We need to welcome and care for those who are here now, not just break their backs picking oranges, tomatoes, strawberries. As Church we need to be more welcoming and care for our brothers and sisters present in our midst. Someone will love them, perhaps a Pentecostal Church which in addition to praying with them also feeds them or attends to the medical needs of their children. They should have been included in the Health Care Reform bill but it was too easy to ignore and exclude them.
As Catholics we should do three things: (1) encourage the Feds to adopt a comprehensive immigration control bill; (2) welcome the immigrants, legal or illegal who are present, longing to be free as Emma Lazarus says on the Statue of Liberty; and (3) resist any Arizona like move to harass and detain anyone simply because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear or the language they speak. What would Our Lady of Guadalupe likely say if she appeared in Nogales or East Hillsborough today? I bet she would speak Spanish.
Update: This post is now available in Spanish: Nuestros Hermanos y Hermanas.