Immigration. Utter the word these
days and you will immediately elicit a
passionate response from people. Responses
range from calling for the borders
to be locked down to protect our
country, its residents and their jobs, to
keeping them open in the spirit of the
history of immigration in our country.
It's an argument that has been raging
for years, and has recently ignited once
again, thanks to the Arizona immigration
law signed by Governor Jan Brewer
on April 23, 2010, and amended days
later to limit its scope. Before the law
could go into effect, however, the U.S.
Department of Justice filed a federal
lawsuit on July 6, claiming that it
improperly preempted federal law.
Enter U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton,
who put a hold on the most controversial
parts of the law one day before
it was to take effect on July 29.
While the law went into effect that
day—excluding its toughest provisions—legal appeals immediately moved
forward. Ultimately, the Supreme Court
may become involved.
Before Judge Bolton's 11th-hour ruling,
the law would have required state
and local police, engaged in a lawful
stop, detention or arrest, to inquire
about the status of people if there was
"reasonable suspicion" that they were
It also called for the arrest of people
unable to provide documentation proving
they are in the country legally. The
law also targeted businesses that hire
illegal immigrant laborers or knowingly
Supporters saw the legislation as a
necessary step to protect American citizens,
an argument fueled by the murder
of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz by
a suspected illegal Mexican immigrant.
Opponents fear racial profiling.
Not a New Issue
Regardless of the outcome of the court
cases, the issue of immigration is not
going away anytime soon. It's certainly
not a new phenomenon for this country,
nor is the fight for immigration
Ever since the founders of our country—immigrants themselves—arrived,
millions of people have followed in
their footsteps and come to the United
States. The reasons are varied—to
escape persecution, seek out economic
opportunities, etc.—but for whatever
reason, they made the journey.
The issue of immigration reform has
been raised time and time again in our
government. In 2004, the bishops of
Arizona wrote to then-President George
W. Bush saying, "It is our hope, and our
urgent request, that you make reform
of our nation's immigration laws a high
priority during your second term in
The following year the U.S. bishops
launched the "Justice for Immigrants:
A Journey of Hope" campaign. At the
time, Bishop James A. Tamayo of the
Diocese of Laredo, Texas, said the bishops
were starting the campaign because
they were "united in the view that the
status quo is unacceptable and that
comprehensive immigration reform is
In 2007, Senator John McCain of
Arizona and the late Senator Ted
Kennedy of Massachusetts introduced
an immigration reform bill to the Senate.
But the bill failed to garner enough
support. It fell to defeat, as so many
others have over the years. And now
President Barack Obama's administration
is attempting to take on the issue,
saying the current system is "fundamentally
broken," and calling for those
who have entered the country illegally
to "get right with the law before they
can get in line and earn their citizenship."
As the debates rage on, millions of
immigrants continue to enter our country—both illegally and legally—adding
fuel to the fire. Many of those immigrants
pay for a chance to enter the
United States with their very lives.
Adding the issue of children born in
the United States to illegal immigrant
parents puts another log on the fire.
Consider needs such as education and
health care for immigrants and their
children in an already tight economic
time, and the flames grow even higher.
In the midst of these flames stands the
Catholic Church. Over the years, the
Church has consistently taken on the
issue of immigration.
In its 2005 policy paper, "Justice for
Newcomers: A Catholic Call for Solidarity
and Reform," Catholic Charities
USA spoke of the Catholic Church's
commitment to this issue:
"Our history as a faith community in
the United States has been as an immigrant
Church in an immigrant nation.
The Church's biblical experience of
migration has taught all Catholics to
empathize with migrants.
"Jesus himself was a migrant—born
in a manger on a journey, he and his
family fled to Egypt, and in his ministry
he had ‘nowhere to lay his head'
(Matthew 8:20). We have been taught
by Him to look for Him in the faces of
migrants and to welcome the stranger."
Reform will certainly not come easily or
quickly as we confront the thorny questions.
What is important is that we
begin to look for answers. We need for
all parties involved to stop the yelling
and start working together. No one is
without blame, and no one has the
ultimate answer. The only way to move
In order to do that, we all need to
take our place at the table—political
parties, citizens, refugees, migrants,
people of faith—with open minds, ears
and hearts. Only then will we find the
path to true reform.—S.H.B.