Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Immigration and the Catholic Church

This http://www.ptdiocese.org/Sites/Org1/Uploads/I000987.pdf links to a letter from a Bishop of a Catholic archdiocese in the Florida Panhandle. The Bishop urges his parishioners not to be concerned about immigration law. The Bishop is a great and well-respected man in his field. I believe his error is in being out of his field in this letter. I quote his letter below and provide my reaction to a number of his erroneous, patronizing, condescending, or otherwise outrageous remarks in [brackets] in blue:

"My Dear Friends in Christ,

We celebrate today the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ who laid down his life out of love and compassion for the human family. As followers of Christ, who are called to build a world based on justice and love, [read on to see his convoluted use of the word "justice"] I call to your attention today the plight of the immigrants in our midst. [The immigrants don't have the plight; the illegal aliens do. The Bishop fails to recognize this essential difference. A thief has a "plight", the honest person does not. The Bishop needs to get histerminologyy correct before he can realize that he is proposing to reward bad behavior.]

Today in our country and our state [Florida], we are facing the reality of some 11-12 million people living in our country without proper legal status. ["without proper legal status" is a softball phrase for "illegal aliens disrespecting and ignoring the laws of this nation."] Many people of good will analyze this situation merely from a legalistic ethic [meaning "we are too law abiding for our own good"] if people do not have legal status they should not be here. [This is true, isn't it? Why is he having difficulty understanding this simple concept?]

The Church has always taught respect for the law [the Catholic Church in California obviously does not hold this basic Christian and American tenet - see this site: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/neumayr200604120719.asp ] , and honors the sovereign right of countries to protect their borders, but the Church has also taught that we have a moral obligation to work to change unjust laws [I've asked him to explain what is unjust about our immigration laws, aside from the fact that they are not being enforced] and to have the faith to protect ourselves without closing our doors to the needy in our world. [There is a big difference between opening our doors to a limited number of "huddled masses yearning to be free" and a "thronging hoard of protesters demanding rights they have not earned and to which they are not entitled!"] In keeping with the teaching of the last judgment (Matthew 25:1-46), we judge the morality of a nationĂ‚’s laws by how they treat the least among us, including by whether or not we welcome the strangers among us. [True - but don't we have a right to distinguish between those who disregard our laws athosehos who respect them? Where is the "justice?"]

The current immigration system is profoundly broken, separates families and facilitates exploitation. [What's broken about our immigration system is the lack of enforcement! The "separation familiesies and exploitation" is caused by those who choose to enter this country illegally. Don't blame enforcement, Bishop. You seem to have things a bit backwards.]

The Church knows this from our daily pastoral experience. We minister to people defrauded or cheated by people who know the workers cannot complain to authorities. [Wow. Isn't it a rather universal fear of lawbreakers to complain to authorities?] We work with families where spouses are separated for as much as ten years, while they await the legal process to get a green card. We work with honors students who have lived here most of their lives but who have no future after high school, because they do not have proper documents. [This is what I appreciate about the Gospel...it clearly teaches the need for personal responsibility, obedience to laws, and the concept of consequences for our actions. Doesn't it seem right and just that those who tap dance around, flaunt, and ourright ignore the laws of a nation they have no right to be in that there may be some unpleasant consequences?] In the worst cases, we see the human trafficking that occurs when smugglers can make great profit doing what the law does not allow poor people to do easily: to migrate in order to help feed their families. [Would it be more just and fair if only wealthy illegals were smuggled in?] We know the fear, violence, and victimization that occur in a system in which legal avenues are not available for matching willing workers to willing employers for many of Florida's key industries. [Sounds like drug trafficking - if there is a willing seller and willing buyer, who cares what the law allows or prohibits! Hello - it's illegal! And yes, there is a reason for limits: It is destructive to our nation to have unassimilatable numbers of people from any nation.]

I ask all Catholics in our diocese to become informed about the moral imperative for just and
comprehensive immigration reform. [I would suggest the Bishop is uninformed. He needs American history and government lessons.] I urge all people of good will to put aside the myths and misinformation that keep us from hearing our brother and sister immigrants cries for justice. [Here is that misused "justice" word again. "Cries for justice" would mean deportation with a fine."] Please refer to the diocesan website at www.ptdiocese.org and click on the reference to immigration reform which examines economic, social and political and references the texts of Scripture and Catholic social teaching that call each of us to action.

I pray that you and your families will enjoy the blessings of Easter and I am grateful to you for
the opportunity to bring this to your kind attention.

Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee

My reply to the Bishop is provided below:

Bishop Picard:

I am writing in response to your letter concerning immigration reform. You asked us to become informed about "the moral imperative for just and comprehensive immigration reform." You referred to the "11-12 million people living in our country without proper legal status..." and urged "all people of goodwill to put aside the myths and misinformation that keeps us from hearing our brother and sister immigrants' cries for justice."

There are some crucial aspects of the illegal alien issue that are being confused or misrepresented in your letter and on your web site.

First, your reference to the word "justice" is confusing. "Justice." Isn't that a term of law? I haven't heard cries for justice" from illegal aliens. Justice means paying the consequences for breaking a law. If the illegal aliens were crying for justice they would be asking for the penalty of the laws they are breaking to be imposed on them and that would be deportation. I trust that is not what you meant. Consequently, what you are suggesting by the term justice in this context is misleading and confusing.

The major theme of your letter and the website is "Justice for Immigrants." This infers that our current immigration laws are unjust. On what basis do you make that claim? How are they unjust? Are you advocating ignoring or violating the law because you feel it is unjust? There are millions of other American citizens who believe these laws are just and necessary. And we have a two-hundred year old process in place for amending our laws if they need to be changed. We don't simply ignore and violate them! I was appalled to hear the Cardinal in California urge his Priests and Bishops to rebel against (disobey) any law that sought to bring order to our "out of control" immigration policies. That should make any Christian cringe!

This nation did not impose an improper legal status on the illegal aliens. They imposed it on themselves as a result of the own actions. They chose to do what they did, and expended a great deal of energy doing it. It was no accident on their part. How does that make the citizens of this nation "unjust.?"

Second, as a grandson of four immigrants who came to this country legally and with an enthusiastic desire to obey the laws of the land and to assimilate into the culture of this nation, I take offense at lumping "illegal aliens" in the same category as "immigrants." The term "immigrant", by definition, presumes that they are legal and abide by all laws that establish their immigrant status. I sincerely caution you to not discount these distinctions. They are essential. Your web site and your letter disingenuously ignore the crucially important distinction between "illegal alien" (which the 11 to 12 million people are) and "immigrants", which the 11 to 12 million ARE NOT.

This distinction is no small matter. It is dangerous to trivialize the law, fostering disrespect for the law which ultimately brings anarchy and chaos. I take exception to being labeled "legalistic" just because I believe in respecting and obeying the law. And yes, I do expect others to obey the law. We are a nation of laws. Your article sounds as though you take the "rule of law", which is the basis of our successful self-governance in this nation, lightly. Please do not dismiss the importance of this aspect of our culture.

I reviewed your web site and could not find the scriptural references your letter mentioned. However, what I do remember from my own studies is that Jesus taught us to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and gave his life to fulfill the law. His disciples and Paul urged others to be obedient to their government and all its laws. I don't mean to emphasize one aspect of scripture over another - immigration policy is not a simple matter of law versus grace. But the law should not be dismissed as offhandedly as you appear to do.

And finally, there appears to be a world of difference between the attitudes of most of the illegal aliens and the immigrants of the previous 200 years. The facts appear to point out these differences, overall, and I know there are exceptions:

  • Illegal aliens are lawbreakers; the immigrants were law abiders
  • Illegal aliens are resisting assimilation; the immigrants desired assimilation
  • Illegal aliens are demanding the rights of citizenship; the immigrants earned the rights of citizenship
  • Illegal aliens are demanding that this nation adapt to their language; the immigrants learned English
  • Illegal aliens are overwhelming our social services infrastructure; immigrants contributed toward it
  • Illegal aliens are doing all the things that gain the disrespect of citizens (ignoring laws, demanding rights that they have not earned); immigrants worked hard to gain respect

Neither the church nor this nation should become the enabler and encourager of civil disobedience and presumptious demands that are widely being demonstrated by the illegal aliens and their sympathizers. Rewarding bad behavior is a bad idea. Our borders need to be respected through effective enforcement measures, both at the border and through appropriate disincentives for those employers who hire illegals. Only then will effective immigration reform have any impact. Perhaps the church could do more to provide resources and ethics training to the citizens of Mexico (the ethics part they sorely based on my understanding of the rampant corruption in Mexico), and English training in this country to facilitate assimilation.

We need immigration reform. But we cannot confuse "reform" with lack of enforcement, with "open borders" and with destabilizingly high immigration limits that make meaningful assimilation nearly impossible. As liberal as our nation has become with regard to tolerating just about anything, there remains a passion for equity and justice. If we are expected to abide by the laws of the land, we expect others to do the same. If our grandparents were expected to abide by the immigration laws of the land, we expect the illegal aliens to do the same. There is a visceral, righteous, and justified indignation when this does not happen.



The State of Georgia has taken the initiative - see this link: http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2006/04/17/daily8.html

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