I’ve spent most of this past week working on immigration issues.
As chairman of the U.S. Bishops Migration Committee, I’ve been working with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the U.S. Bishops’ president, and many of my brother bishops to study the new comprehensive immigration reform legislation that has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.
This is shaping up to be the summer of immigration reform. Hearings on the Senate bill began last week and debate is expected to continue until the bill is voted on sometime later this summer.
This will be a period of intense activity — both at the national level and locally here in Los Angeles. We have the nation’s largest immigrant population, so we have a high stake in the outcome of these Congressional debates.
We will hold our annual Immigration Mass at the Cathedral on July 21. And throughout the coming weeks, our Office of Life, Justice and Peace will be working to educate and mobilize our parishes.
Many of us have forgotten our immigrant roots. But our Church has always been a Church of immigrants. In earlier generations, we welcomed newcomers from every nation in Europe. Today, we are still welcoming newcomers — but now most of them come from Latin America, Asia, Oceania and Africa.
This great Archdiocese of Los Angeles is a beautiful manifestation of our immigrant Church and nation — so many people, from so many countries, all coming here to be part of the American Dream.
We see the same patterns in Catholic communities throughout the United States. Our American Church is a family of God drawn from almost 60 ethnicities, nationalities and countries of origin.
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.
Earlier this week, the U.S. bishops held a press conference on the reform legislation, which is known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.
This bill has many of the elements the bishops are looking for. The job now is to improve this legislation so that all can come out of the shadows and are able to pursue the American Dream.
We are concerned about the border-security “triggers” in the bill. These are certain conditions that must be met before undocumented immigrants could even apply for permanent residency or citizenship.
My brother bishops and I are deeply concerned about the security and sovereignty of our country. The Church has always taught that governments have the duty to defend and secure their national borders.
I lived for many years in Texas, which has our nation’s longest border with Mexico, so I know these issues first hand. I agree with the Senators who drafted this legislation — we absolutely need to secure our borders to stem the flow of drugs and crime and to reduce risks of foreign terrorists entering our country.
But I also think we need to make sure that these “triggers” don’t become “moving targets.”
Our government has spent billions in recent years to build fences and increase monitoring and enforcement along our borders. Under this bill we would spend billions more.
My concern is that “security” is not something we can really measure. We can’t have the lives and futures of millions of men and women depend on a political calculation of when and whether our borders are “secure enough.”
So to me, it makes sense to pursue the two goals at the same time. We can find new ways to protect our borders and to document the people who come into our country. At the same time we can provide a generous path for those who are living in the margins of society to gain a legal status along their way to becoming American citizens.
Our nation will be far stronger and more secure when we find the political will to welcome this new generation of immigrants into the promise of America.
Let’s pray for one another this week. And let’s pray hard for our leaders and our country.
As a Church, let’s show our leaders the way by continuing our beautiful work of welcoming the stranger — helping them to learn our history, language and values. Helping them to cherish and maintain their distinctive identities, cultures and faith while making their own contributions to the common spirit and culture of America.
Let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of the Americas, to open our hearts so that we build a world where no one is a stranger.