Immigration Reform

Here we go again!

Anyone who does not believe that “history repeats itself” has only to take a look at the unfortunate new law in Arizona.

Throughout American history, whenever there is tension and turmoil in society — economic distress, political rifts, war, distrust and confusion in culture — the immigrant unfailingly becomes the scapegoat.

It’s a supreme paradox in our American culture — where every person unless a Native American, is a descendent of immigrants — that we seem to harbor an ingrained fear of “the other,” which, in our history, is usually the foreigner (immigrant), the Jew, the Catholic, or the black. (cf. Religious Outsiders, by R. L. Moore, or Immigrants and Exiles, by K. Miller).

So we can chart periodic spasms of “anti-immigrant” fever in our nation’s history:  the Nativists of the 1840’s, who led mobs to torch Irish homes and Catholic churches; the Know-Nothings of the 1850’s who wanted to deny the vote to everyone except white, Protestant, native-born, “pure” Americans; the American Protective Association of the 1880’s and 1890’s who were scared of the arrival of immigrants from Italy, Poland, and Germany; the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920’s who spewed hate against blacks, Jews, Catholics, and “forn-ers”; the “eugenics movement” of the 1920’s and 1930’s who worried that racial purity was being compromised by the immigrant and non-Anglo Saxon blood lines; and the Protestants and Other Americans United of the 1950’s who were apprehensive about Catholic immigrants and their grandkids upsetting the religious and cultural concord of America.

And, here we go again!  Arizona is so scared, apparently, and so convinced that the #1 threat to society today is the immigrant that it has passed a mean-spirited bill of doubtful constitutionality that has as its intention the expulsion of the immigrant.

What history teaches us, of course, is that not only are such narrow-minded moves unfair and usually unconstitutional, but they are counterproductive and harmful.

Because the anti-immigrant strain in our American heritage, however strong, is not dominant.  Thank God, there’s another sentiment in our national soul, and that’s one of welcome and embrace to the immigrant.

That’s the ethos we New Yorkers are most at home with, as we look out at the Statue of Liberty, whose torch of welcome has caused tears of joy in the eyes of millions of our grandparents as they arrive exhausted and nearly desperate, and as we today live next door to Latino, Haitian, Asian and mid-eastern neighbors.

That’s the ethos most especially a part of the Catholic — the word means everybody — culture, which has been a spiritual mother to immigrants to America, who were and are mostly Catholic, who have found a home in parishes and schools which helped get them moved-in and settled in America.

From even a purely business point of view, a warm welcome to immigrants is known to be good for the economy and beneficial for a society.

To welcome the immigrant, to work hard for their legalization and citizenship, to help them feel at home, to treat them as neighbors and allies in the greatest project of human rights and ethnic and religious harmony in history — the United States of America — flows from the bright, noble side of our American character.

To blame them, stalk them, outlaw them, harass them, and consider them outsiders is unbiblical, inhumane, and un-American.

Yes, every society has the duty to protect its borders and thoughtfully monitor its population.  The call is to do this justly, sanely, and civilly.

My brother bishops in Arizona worry this is not the case there.  They have been joined by Cardinal Roger Mahony, Jewish, other Christians, and various civic and human rights groups.

I’m on their side.

I want history to repeat itself — but the “Statue of Liberty side,” not the Nativist side.

P.S. I thought you might be interested in a presentation on immigration reform that will be given at Fordham University on Monday, May 3. Cardinal Mahony will speak on “Our Heritage & Our Future: Why Enacting Comprehensive Immigration Reform Is a Moral Imperative.”  Click here to view details on his presentation.

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67 Responses to “Immigration Reform”

  1. Doug in Milwaukee says:

    Your Grace:
    We thank you for your inspirational thoughts on the matter if immigration, and caring for our fellow man.

    But, would you be willing to speak about illegal immigration? Many who participate as illegal immigrants put themselves at great risk from unscrupulous predators. Further, in law we refer to “fruits of a poison tree”. If people come to this country as illegal immigrants, aren’t they demonstrating that they have no respect for the law? What other laws will they be willing to violate?

    Remember the 12 virgins? Some didn’t bring extra oil, and were told to go buy some. We are not obligated to allow everyone who wants to immigrate to be allowed to do so.
    Thank you for giving this your kind consideration.

  2. As can be seen by the number of responses (mine included) to the Archbishop’s posting, immigration is a hot button issue. Americans have just been through almost a year of health care reform that the most do not want in its current form. The public is not ready for another major issue that will be pushed through against the will of the majority. Especially, with unemployment near 10%.
    Good civil discourse is always welcome but not a rush to fix such a complex problem as illegal immigration at.

  3. Ned Robinson says:

    Thank you Archbishops Dolan and Mahony for challenging the xenophobia virus that has infected Arizona. I want to join you in raising a voice of celebration, celebrating our differences so that we can come together and create a beautiful world that is enriched by those differences and where each one of us is encouraged to fulfill our unique mission on this planet. Thank you.

  4. Cynthia McGrath says:

    Your Excellency,
    I admire you very much and believe that you are correct- most of the time. I do, however, disagree with your position on this matter. There is a huge difference between legal and illegal immigration. I am a descendant of Irish and German immigrants. They faced “Irish need not apply” and other less savory sayings but, they came here legally. I fail to see the similarity between the two!!

    I can understand why people who are trying to feed their family would want to come here but it needs to be done legally. It is only FAIR to those who come to the country legally. All illegal immigrants need to be found and deported. In addition, those who hire illegal immigrants should be be punished.

    Granting amnesty to those who break the law is not the answer.

  5. Pam Haines says:

    Archbishop Dolan,

    Is there something wrong with the government issuing “Worker Permits” for migrants who want to come into the USA from Mexico to work and support their family? Is there something wrong with securing our Borders to protect our country from those who do not mean well (drug dealers, marauders, and even terrorists? All US citizens have to produce their identification card frequently, if not daily. Why should Mexicans coming into our country be an exception? Is it wrong to require migrants to get a visa or some kind of an identification card in order to come in through a gate–like we do when we go to another country? It looks like most people would welcome migrants coming in legally. Since this is a critical situation, why doesn’t someone speak up in government and make this happen? Why not address the issue in a reasonable, sensible way that respects the need for the security of our borders for the safety of ALL–including the migrants–who live here?

  6. Haydee Cardenas says:

    Thank you Archbishop Dolan for challenging this law that has passed Arizona. I want to join you in raising a voice of celebration. Only a true Godly man like you can see beyond the scope of the law and see this is not a Christian way to fix immigration problems. I am an immigrant myself and I had to wait until my immigrant visa was available but I am conscious that not everybody has that opportunity and we as Christian have the duty to assist them without judging them. This is the travesty of us as Christian tha Jesus is in our midst but we can not recognize Him. May our Lord continue blessig you, Thanks again for being their and our voices.

  7. Mary Ann says:

    Dear Archbishop Dolan,

    Thank you for courageously standing up for human dignity.

  8. Tom Qualey says:

    Your Grace,

    In my opinion, there are several issues that appear to have been mis-identified in your blog. While historically accurate, anti-immigrant fears or outright xenophobia have been a central issue for many groups such as the Know-Nothings and the KKK, but the Arizona law appears quite different to me for the following reasons:

    1- It is addressed to ILLEGAL immigrants – the “Open Door” policy that the US once had is not in effect and various peoples from various cuntries queue up for legal admission to this country (something the Know-Nothings and Klan would have opposed)

    2- Today’s ILLEGAL immigrants, use resources (schools, hospitals, roads, etc.) at the expense of the citizens who pay for these services. While some may argue that when these ILLEGALS buy items they pay taxes – they do not pay income tax and hence are a drain on the society.

    3- When I travel abroad, I am expected to have my passport with me at all times. In this country I carry my driver’s license with me at all times. The burden to actually prove one’s citizenship is common in many countries. The fact that these individuals have chosen to break the law, and, in so doing cost the citizens of Arizone money to pay for their health care, schooling and providing services is surely seen as an injustice to the LEGAL citizens.

    But, what most concerns me is this blind faith that the same Congress that has now passed a law funding abortions (notwithstanding President Obama’s statement) is going to come up with a law to address ILLEGAL immigration? Arizona has taken the initiative here and we really need to see how this develops.

    While joining a law suit to stop this law and encouraging a boycott is your option, I think it would have been better to come up with actual principles on how to address those who flout established US immigration laws. Punishing the citizens of Arozona is an option, but remember, it is those ILLEGALS who will also be punished by this action. In the scheme of justice – punishing everyone must call out to you as improper and unjust.

  9. Marykay Johnson says:

    Dear Archbishop Dolan, With all due respect…there is legal…and illegal. I have helped someone come to this county..legally, and feel those who should be most outraged are the legal immigrants, who played by the rules and did the right thing. “Work hard for thier legalization”..yes…a warm welcome for legal bet. There is nothing undignified about a green card…my daughter in law is VERY PROUD of hers.

  10. Mary Ann says:

    Here’s a scenario: What if thousands of unemployed people in the U.S. decided to sneak into Vatican City to find work. Most of the illegal immigrants are good people who want to support their families and are willing to do work that Vatican City residents “just won’t do.” Would the Pope allow them to stay and give them amnesty? If the Swiss Guard asked the illegal immigrants for identification would the guard be reprimanded for racial profiling because these people spoke with American English accents? And if the guard asked the illegal immigrants to leave, would the illegal immigrants get away with protesting and demanding their “rights”? I think the Vatican City guards would treat the illegal immigrants humanely and with dignity as the guards escorted them out of the city. Vatican City would not tolerate the breaking of its laws that are put in place to protect its citizens and its guests who entered legally. The Pope reaches out to people in need, but in their own country. I doubt he would let every needy person move to Vatican City. We also need to reach out to people in other countries, but we can’t let everyone move to and stay in the U.S., especially people who break the law by sneaking in illegally.

  11. Jim Simon says:

    With all due respect, quite a few of the faithful await your response to the discussions above. In reading the USCCB’s 2003 letter, I found this, “The Church recognizes the right of a sovereign state to control its borders in furtherance of the common good. It also recognizes the right of human persons to migrate so that they can realize their God-given rights. These teachings complement each other.” (USCCB, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” 2003)

    While those teachings do complement each other, the reality of our current situation is not complementary. The US is not able to exercise its sovereign right to control its borders. As a result, the common good is increasingly threatened and undermined; not by those truly seeking to migrate due to dire circumstances, but by those seeking to wreak havoc in both the US and Mexico (violent drug lords and human smugglers).

    Please consider the plea of several in this discussion forum – we implore you to shed light on the Church’s immigration position. Where is the balance in your “Immigration Reform” essay between charity and truth, between mercy and justice?

    As the Holy Father stated in Caritas in Veritate (para # 6) and has since repeated many times (including on the airplane on his way to Fatima) – charity demands justice.

    With Respect and Charity,
    Jim Simon

  12. Gabriel Austin says:

    It is disappointing that the two cardinals used inflammatory language about the Arizona bill. It is, indeed, somewhat demagogic, as though they are running for office.

    The Arizona law is, after all, but a repeat of the federal law established under the regime of FDR. Did they never hear of the green card which all resident aliens were required to carry and to renew every year?
    It seems not.

    That our immigration laws need some repair has been obvious for many years. It is to these that the cardinals should be addressing themselves. Fix the federal law and the Arizona law will be taken care of.

  13. Sherry Guess says:

    Thank you Archbishop Dolan for speaking out on this issue in a most Christian manner, regardless of all the panicked folks who cannot see the forest for the trees on this fiasco that has been going on for 40 years with no apparent end in sight. Americans have succumbed in large part to the “scarcity” claims of the bigoted. Wake up Catholic Christians and unite to do as Jesus would have us do. The brothers and sisters who have come here in search of freedom and a better life for their families need our help, not condemnation. Keep speaking out for Catholic Christian values.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    It is very sad to read so many negative responses in regards to the immigration reform. What everyone fails to remember is that these people are humans. They are our fellow brothers and sisters. It is very sad that it is basically their skin color and their need to survive that is being questioned. There was a time when everyone in the history of this country was an immigrant. Whether it is from the 1600’s or 2010 we are all immigrants (legal or illegal). The only true natives are the Native American’s. Sadly the Native American’s were basically wiped out and their land taken from them. With that type of history we should all feel ashamed. And yes there are always bad people and there are always good people but to say \they are illegal immigrants they are bad!\ It is absolutely ridiculous and very sad that our immigrant based country has come to such a disgraceful tactic such as immigration reform. Look at the American jails, most of them are American citizens, it just so happens they were born here. Even if you are illegal and you want a better life for you and your family and you do the dirtiest job being paid the most menial wages so the US citizens can have a better life. Honestly, most if not all US citizens would never do the jobs illegal aliens will do. Basically it all boils down to racism and that is just sad. Do you think Jesus would turn away all these people? I hope that we can pray for understanding and peace for all the immigrants, US Citizens against immigrants and the law makers.

  15. Sue Widemark says:

    Dearest Archbishop Dolan, just to let you know, I have quoted and sent your wonderful article (above) to several people. You are such a light in these times of darkness. Thanks for being YOU and sharing as you do. love you a lot!

  16. Dwight Spivey says:

    Archbishop Dolan,
    Many of the faithful in the preceding comments have repeatedly asked for clarification from you on a number of issues in this article. We have all bent over backwards to show our respect for you and the office you hold. I must say, your silence in responding to us is appalling and troublesome, and shows a lack of respect for lay faithful who may not agree with your every word. I understand you are one of the busiest men in the nation, but when you make these kind of statements you should expect some feedback, and respond accordingly to those who hold you and your opinions in such high esteem.

  17. Mike Callery says:

    Your Excellency:
    With all due respect, you are badly misinformed on this one….we are talking about ILLEGAL immigrants whereas you are speaking of LEGAL immigrants…big difference!!!
    Our country was founded and can only stand on laws that are meant to be respected and enforced when broken. The federal law and the oath that all federal officials take is to defend our great nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We are speaking of laws being broken when it comes to this issue. So with all due respect your excellency, you are off base on this opinion.
    God bless,