Greetings, my friends!
It’s always good to get back to Denver. I have a lot of happy memories and friendships from my time here as Auxiliary Bishop. So I was grateful when I received the invitation of the Catholic Press Association to address you.
I am privileged to serve on the Pontifical Council for Social Communication and I have great respect for what you all do. The Catholic media is absolutely vital to the Church’s mission of the new evangelization.
Our world needs you, my friends. Our world needs a vital Catholic media presence — on every platform from print to digital. You are engaged in a noble vocation of witness and service to the Church.
Tonight I want to briefly talk to you about what I believe is the most pressing issue that we face in American public life. And that’s the need for immigration reform.
I just finished a little book that Our Sunday Visitor will publish next week, called “Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation.”
I’ve been writing, speaking and advocating on the immigration issue for nearly twenty years. As many of you know, I am serving right now as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee.
This issue is personal for me. I’m Mexican by birth and an American citizen by decision. I love the land where I was born and I love this nation I am blessed to call my adopted homeland. I have family and friends on both sides of the border.
But this issue is more than personal. For me, our national debate about immigration is a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul. Immigration is a human rights test of our generation. But it’s also a defining historical moment for America — a moment for national renewal.
There are times in the life of a nation that are a trial. We are living in one of those times. How we respond to the challenge of illegal immigration will measure our national character and conscience in this generation. And in this historical moment, there’s a great role for the Church to play.
Many of us have forgotten our immigrant roots. But our Church has always been a Church of immigrants, just as America has always been a nation of immigrants. In earlier generations, we welcomed newcomers from every nation in Europe. Today, we are still welcoming newcomers — but now from all over the world and most of them from Latin America and Asia.
Because we are an immigrant Church, this debate over immigration is a debate about the future of the Church and our Catholic people. The Mexicans and other Latin Americans at the center of this debate — the millions whose fate is being decided by our politicians — are mostly fellow Catholics.
So we have a moral obligation — as Catholics and as citizens — to contribute to these discussions over immigration reform.
We need to help our neighbors see that immigration is about more than immigration.
Immigration is a question about America. It’s about our national identity and destiny, about our national “soul.” What is America? What does it mean to be an American? Who are we as a people and where are we heading as a country? What will the “next America” look like? What should the next America look like? These are the questions that underlie our immigration debate.
It was a British Catholic writer, G. K. Chesterton, who said, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.”
He was right. Every other nation in history has been established on some “material” foundation, on the basis of a common set of borders or territory. Or on the basis of race or ethnicity — the same kind of people all living in one place. America has always been different.
America was founded on something else. America was founded on a vision, a dream.
America’s founders dreamed of a nation where men and women from every race, religion and national background could live in equality — as brothers and sisters, children of the same God. America’s founders wrote this dream down in the Declaration of Independence.
And their “creed” has helped make this country home to a flourishing diversity of cultures, religions and ways of life. As a result, we’ve always been a nation of immigrants. E pluribus unum. One people made from peoples of many nations, races, and creeds.
That’s what’s at stake in the immigration debate — the future of the American Dream.
The American Dream has always been a promise not fully delivered, a work in progress. The dream is beautiful and universal. The reality remains painful and partial.
We all know this. America hasn’t always lived up to our principles — beginning with our "original sin" of slavery and continuing in various forms of nativism and race discrimination.
But the American Dream of equality and dignity has always formed our conscience and driven us to strive for renewal. Think about the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, the farmworkers movement, the culture of life movement today.
Now, we need a new movement of conscience. A movement that will enable us to open our hearts to the 11 million people who are living here without authorization.
We are a great nation. But right now, we are reduced to addressing this major issue in our public life through name-calling and discrimination; Criminal “profiling” based on race, random identity checks, commando-style raids of workplaces and homes, arbitrary detentions and deportations.
We seem blind to the fact that illegal immigration is no ordinary crime.
The fact is that most “illegals” are the people next door. They go to work every day. Their kids go to school with our kids. We sit next to them at church on Sunday. Most have been living in our country for five years or more. Two-thirds have been here for at least a decade.
That’s what makes our response to this “crime” so cruel. For all its limitations, our national immigration policy has always tried to keep parents and children together and to reunite families that are separated by our borders. But that’s not true anymore.
In the last four years we have deported more than a million people — almost 400,000 last year alone. That’s a record number. There thousands more being held without charges or representation in “detention centers” around the country.
In the name of enforcing our laws, we’re breaking up families. This is the truth – one out of every four people we deport is being taken away from an intact family.
Friends, we’re talking about souls, not statistics. We’re talking about fathers who without warning, won’t be coming home for dinner tonight — and who may not see their families again for a decade. We’re talking about women suddenly left as single mothers to raise their children in poverty.
Since when has America become a nation that punishes innocent children for the sins of their parents? This is what the immigration issue is doing to our national soul. So we need to stop ourselves. We are a better people than this. We can find a better way.
That’s where you and I come in, my friends. This is the part we have to play as people of faith.
We need to be the conscience of our nation. We need to help our neighbors to remember the founding vision of America — that all men and women are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights. No matter where they come from or how they got here. No matter what kind of documents they have or don’t have.
We need to help our neighbors remember that America has always made room for people from many cultures, speaking different languages, with different beliefs, customs and traditions.
Friends, I’ve studied this issue and prayed about it and I’ve come to this conclusion: Immigration reform offers us a special moment as a nation. We have a chance to create a path to welcome millions of new Americans who would share our national ideals, beliefs and values. This new generation of immigrants promises to help renew the soul of America — economically, culturally and spiritually.
I’ll leave you with one thought. Our new Pope, Pope Francis, is the first Pope from the New World. He is also an immigrant’s son. This is also something new for a Pope in modern times. His father was a railroad worker who came to Argentina from Italy seeking a better life.
What a great story! The son of a humble immigrant grows up to become the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics in every continent and nation! Doesn’t that say it all about the promise of immigration?
Thank you for everything you are doing to spread the good news of the Gospel and the culture of life and thanks for listening tonight.