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Immigration: Time to Work Together


Not a New Issue
On the Front Lines
Coming to the Table

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 illegal immigrants.

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 transport them.

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 reform.

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 office."

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 needed."

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 is forward—together.

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.

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