Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The immigration issue"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the April 27, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Heated political debate, large demonstrations, and the presence of large numbers of migrants to this country have finally brought to a head the much-needed discussion, and search for a resolution, of the issue of immigration. It is most important that we recognize that human beings are involved – people who have come to the United States to work and to live. They are brothers and sisters in Christ who deserve respect and support.

In many instances, their presence is integral to our economy. We have only to look at our State of Washington, particularly at agriculture, to see how true that reality is. In most hotels in this country, you will hear Spanish spoken in the corridors as the maids go about cleaning and refreshing the rooms for guests. Take a cab in Washington, D.C., and in five rides, you may well have five different drivers, from five different countries.

Our country is built on immigration. My own father is an immigrant. He came in 1927, through Ellis Island. The program was much more controllable then, but today, the flow of migrants to the U.S. has been much less so in many instances. There are many ways to get into the United States; the result is considerable numbers of individuals who are not documented. One archbishop from Mexico told me that he had a million people from his archdiocese who had migrated to the United States. Some of them are here, in our diocese. They are part of our parishes, part of our larger communities. Here they have found work, something for which they have been searching desperately.

The reality of increasing numbers of undocumented persons cries out for a just resolution. Unfortunately, their presence has occasioned a certain amount of immigrant bashing, and even some rather mean-spirited legislation proposed on the national level. Many years ago, when I was Bishop of Yakima, I heard an immigration officer speak of the futility of trying to seal our borders. Now there are those who speak of trying to build walls. I remember a rather poignant comment last January in Jerusalem. Bishop William Kenny CP, the Auxiliary Bishop of Stockholm, said that any nation who tries to build walls is demonstrating its weakness.

We certainly need to secure our borders. But we have a need for workers in the United States, and people have responded to that need. There is no question but that the issues surrounding immigration are complex. My hope is that our nation will find a solution that respects the rights of everyone involved.

Over the years, the Catholic Church has spoken frequently about the question of migration. In 1996, the Catholic Bishops of Washington State issued a pastoral statement. In that document, they say, “Without addressing the complexities of the movement of peoples and cultures, we remind our community of faith that these are not solely issues of policy and management. They are situations of real persons confronting their needs for employment, housing, education, and even mere survival. For the most part, our day-to-day life is not concerned with the implementation of policies but how we interact with the diversity of persons in our midst and the cultures they represent.”

In 2003, a landmark, joint pastoral letter, titled Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, was issued by Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States. This letter provides an excellent background for the challenge of the migration of people, citing Scripture and pertinent Catholic social teaching. Five emerging principles from this teaching are cited:

• 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 undocumented migrants should be respected.

The document concludes with pastoral challenges and responses and public policy challenge and responses.

The U.S. bishops more recently have embarked upon a special campaign, Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope. They state: “Our common faith in Jesus Christ moves us to search for ways that favor a spirit of solidarity. It is a faith that transcends borders and bids us to overcome all forms of discrimination and violence so that we may build relationships that are just and loving.”

In addition, the bishops call for an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system to include the following important elements:

• A broad-based earned legalization program for the undocumented in the U.S.
• Reform of our family-based immigration system to allow family members to reunited with loved ones in the United States.
• Reform of the employment-based immigration system to provide legal pathways to migrants to come and work in a safe, humane, and orderly manner.
• Abandonment of the border “blockade” enforcement strategy.
• Restoration of due process protections for immigrants.

Finally, last summer Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C. spoke out on this issue. “We need a strong and clear immigration policy,” he said. “It must serve our country’s security and prosperity and at the same time be based on the moral values on which all of our lives must ultimately rest. We must never forget the Gospel call of Jesus – to welcome the stranger – for in the face of this stranger we see the face of Christ.”

I hope all of us can answer that call with a resounding “Amen.”

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