April 27, 2006
Today, there are 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. While we continue to recognize our heritage as a country founded by immigrants, we are now facing a much more complex situation. New immigrants hold on to their ethnic, racial and religious traditions. They face an ever increasing inequality. The gap between those with abundance and those with the barest necessities widens every year. Just one example. It takes 419 average workers to earn the income of the average CEO (Nannerl O Keohane,
“Remembering Tocqueville: Reflections on the American Condition”
Recent demonstrations across the United States have raised the nation’s awareness of the serious need for immigration reform. From Oregon to Alabama, from San Diego to Dallas, thousands upon thousands have taken to the streets to cry for a just treatment of immigrants among us. The campaign in Congress to enact the most sweeping changes in immigration law in over twenty years has sparked these protests. But the causes are deeper.
Today’s debates in the halls of Congress and on the airwaves demonstrate how complex the question of immigration truly is. The question touches those individuals who come to this country with hopes of improving their life and the life of their family. The question impacts every person living in this country.
In the search for a solution to the problem of migration in general and illegal immigrants, public opinion is important. Political leaders may be tempted simply to follow public opinion. Pope John Paul II remarked, “The attitude of the host society has an important role to play. In this perspective, it is very important that public opinion be properly informed about the true situation in the migrants’ country of origin, [and] about the tragedies involving them ….”(
L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 13 September 1995, p. 3).
Since 1993, Congress has spent nearly 25 billion dollars on border enforcement. During the same period, the number of undocumented has more than doubled. An enforcement-only approach to immigration reform is flawed. Rather, there should be legal ways for workers to enter the United States in a safe and orderly manner. Immigrants should be given the opportunity to work toward permanent residency. Additional visas should be offered for families to be reunited through the family preference system. Providing health care and education benefits to all immigrants promotes the good of the entire society.
Present day changes in demographics have laid bare the need to have laws that truly promote the American dream. Equality among people just doesn’t happen on its own. It is fostered by offering immigrants work and education. It is nourished by integrating them into the society. The recent protests are a strong reminder of our need to welcome the immigrant and treat them with justice and charity.
The problem of justice and charity is complex. Until recently, industrialized countries have depended on the work of immigrants to help the economy. But there is a new phenomenon taking place. Cheap labor can be obtained without the burden of immigration. Relocating businesses to other countries can utilize cheap manpower and make a great profit. At the same time, the worker remains impoverished in his or her own country. Such a system ignores the dignity of the person. The present trade dispute between the United States and China is one example of this problem.
If the problem of immigration is to be solved, we need to constantly re-examine how we foster the economic development of our own nation and other countries; how we work to eliminate social inequalities; how we insure the proper functioning of democratic structures and promote the dignity of the individual person.
Those who come to our country are our brothers and sisters. They deserve our respect and care. In fact, Jesus identifies himself with them. The way we love them is how we love Jesus. He tells us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…” (Matthew 25:34-36).
When we work to integrate immigrants, we avoid isolating whole groups and creating ghettoes that breed unrest. Each new group of immigrants brings a richness and diversity that can continue to strengthen this great country. “When ‘diversities’ converge and are integrated, they start a ‘friendly coexistence of differences’. Values are rediscovered that are common to every culture… [These values] unite rather than divide. …Under these conditions, the phenomenon of migration helps foster the ‘dream’ of a future of peace for all humanity” (Pope John Paul II, December 15, 2003).
This is the second of a two-part series.