Our nation’s failure to address the immigration issue has led to a persistent air of crisis and a true humanitarian tragedy.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s deadlock last month in United States v. Texas, I called on President Obama and Congress to agree to halt deportations of nonviolent individuals pending the outcome of the national elections this fall. This would be a gesture of compassion that would provide temporary peace of mind to millions of our brothers and sisters, including millions of children.
Once again, it is time to call for moral leadership and political courage. We need to reject the angry voices in the media and all who would exploit this issue for their own partisan advantage. And we should be clear: both of the major political parties continue to be guilty of this.
In the last 20 years, Republicans and Democrats at one time or another have held the White House and the majority in both houses of Congress. But both parties seem to have decided, for whatever motives, not to address this issue in a constructive way.
It may be naïve to say that we should put people above politics. But if it is naïve, then that is a sad commentary on the state of our politics.
It may sound “reasonable” when politicians and media figures talk about building walls along our southern borders and sending federal agents out to round-up and deport those who have crossed the border illegally or overstayed their visas.
But the people they want to punish have become our neighbors. When we talk about “illegal immigrants,” we are talking about brothers and sisters with faces and names and families and stories — just like every one of us.
Most of the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. have been living here for five years or more — two-thirds have been here for at least a decade. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children.
And right now we are deporting a lot of people — more than 2 million in the last eight years alone. Most are not violent criminals. In fact, up to one-quarter are mothers and fathers that our government is seizing from ordinary households.
We need to know these “numbers.” Because behind each of these numbers is a person with hopes and dreams and a family.
Politicians and media figures speak of “stanching the flow of illegal immigrants.” The reality is that in the name of enforcing our laws, we are deporting some little girl’s dad, some little boy’s mom.
No one is “for” illegal immigration. A sovereign nation has the obligation to secure its borders and determine who enters the country and how long they stay.
The current crisis is caused precisely because our government, at every level, has failed in its responsibilities — often motivated by business demands for “cheap” foreign-born labor.
There is plenty of blame to go around. All of us, to some extent, are benefitting every day from an economy of “illegal” workers. But deportation only punishes the vulnerable — ordinary parents who only came here seeking a better life for their children.
In our political season, and especially in light of “Brexit” and struggles in the European Union, the experts tell us we are witnessing a worldwide backlash against immigrants.
But after nearly two decades of debate here in the United States, there is actually a broad understanding of the issues and even a consensus about what needs to be done.
Everyone knows that immigration follows the cycles of the global economy. And everyone agrees that our system is broken and needs to be modernized to reflect global realities.
The broad outlines of authentic reform are clear: We need reforms that secure our borders against illegal crossings and allow us to keep track of those living within our borders. We need reforms that enable us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow. We need to protect the rights of foreign-born workers.
There is even consensus on how to deal with the undocumented persons living among us. A Marist Poll commissioned last year by the Knights of Columbus found overwhelming support for granting them a generous path to citizenship, provided they meet certain requirements, such as learning English, paying some fines and holding a job that pays taxes.
The consensus and the path forward are clear. What we’re waiting for is politicians and media figures who have the will and the courage to lead.
So this week, let’s pray for our country and for all who are suffering from the cruelty and uncertainty caused by this broken immigration system.
Let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe, our Mother, to inspire our nation to welcome those who come here to build a new life and to renew the spirit and moral foundation of our country — through the gifts of their faith, their deep love for family and their traditions and values.