The Church in the United States is observing National Migration Week, January 5-11.
After a year of debate over comprehensive immigration reform, I get the sense that some people are tired of hearing about the issue. They seem to wish the Church and others would just stop talking about immigration.
But the issues remain urgent for millions of our brothers and sisters, and it will not go away.
In Los Angeles and throughout California and the rest of the country, we face many challenges — the spreading of poverty, material and spiritual; the erosion of the middle class; the breakdown of marriage and the family; abortion, euthanasia, drugs and human trafficking; and the growing fragmentation and polarization of our society — economically, culturally and morally.
But right now, it’s urgent for us to address the daily injustices and offenses to human dignity being caused by our broken immigration system.
As a society, we have come to accept a permanent underclass of men and women who are living at the margins of our society. Members of this underclass perform much of the manual labor and basic services that are essential to our society — caring for our children; building our homes and offices; harvesting the food we eat. They pay many millions in taxes and social security, and yet they have no rights and no security.
In our neighborhoods and parishes we know the reality — that families, especially children, are the ones suffering the most. We hear many arguments and justifications for why our leaders can’t fix this broken system. But nothing they say can answer the tears of a child whose mother or father has been deported or locked in an immigration jail.
Our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said that globalization can make us all neighbors — but it can’t make us brothers and sisters. For that we need God. Because if we don’t believe that God is our Father, then we’ll never have any reason to treat others as our brothers and sisters.
That’s why I continue to believe strongly that immigration reform is a spiritual issue — just as much as it is a human rights issue and a family values issue.
Too many Americans today justify the treatment of immigrants — the deportations that break up families, the poor working conditions and the denial of basic rights — on the grounds that these immigrants have violated our country’s laws. “They are getting what they deserve,” the argument goes.
The rule of law is important for the good of society. But God’s law of love calls us always to a higher standard. In God’s eyes, we can never justify being cold or indifferent to the sufferings of others. A person without the “proper papers” remains a child of God, created in his image and likeness, deserving of dignity and our respect.
Jesus told us that we will be judged by our love. And he said that we prove our love for God by serving him in the least of our brothers and sisters.
And Jesus was specific about “who” we need to love and serve. The hungry, the thirsty and the naked. The stranger, the immigrant. The prisoner.
Jesus seems deliberately to have specified the kinds of people who are hardest for us to love — the poor who seek some share of our time and possessions. The immigrant who asks to be welcomed into our country and our way of life. The prisoner who has broken our laws.
These are “hard cases.” But the demands of Christian love are not easy. One of the saints said, we love God as much as we love the one we love the least.
So we need to keep repeating the words of Jesus, the words of his Gospel of love — in season and out of season. Jesus told us that if the Church were to stop speaking, the very stones would cry out to God, proclaiming his truth and justice.
This week, let’s pray for our leaders, and for all of us as citizens. May we all find the political and moral courage we need to address this ongoing crisis in our society.
And let’s make our love for the immigrant concrete. You can go to www.justiceforimmigrants to make your voice heard, to let your leaders in Washington know that the time has come for immigration reform.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary, who along with St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, was a refugee in Egypt, to help us to welcome others — not as strangers, not as a threat to our way of life, but as our brothers and sisters.