Immigration reform is becoming a reality in this country. A much-heralded bipartisan push in the U.S. Senate could produce a comprehensive path to full citizenship for millions of immigrants who are living in America illegally.
The Catholic Church has been at the forefront of progressive immigration reform efforts for decades. Undocumented workers, many of whom are Catholic, have had a tireless ally in their church.
“Perhaps more than any other religion in the United States, we are a faith of immigrants,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said last month. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was emphatic about immigration reform being “an essential element of Catholic doctrine.”
“This isn’t some wild left-wing cause here, this is classic Catholic teaching,” he said. “As we speak, persons are being deported and an untold number of families are being divided.”
Joining Cardinal Dolan was Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, who echoed the need for reform that “affirms the rule of law and basic human rights.”
“The goal [of the legislation] is to solve the problem in a humane manner, then all undocumented persons should be able to participate,” Archbishop Gomez said. A cornerstone of the nation’s immigration system, he insisted, must be to preserve family unity.
With laudable solidarity to promote social justice, church leaders have kept the pressure on lawmakers to do the right thing. It is Catholicism at its best, forcefully advocating for the most vulnerable.
In a moving sermon to more than 1,500 congregants, Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, N.J., said the church was championing immigration reform in Congress with “a moral urgency we have not had in the last decade.” He stressed that “God teaches us to welcome the strangers, to care for the least among us.”
The message goes to the heart of what the church teaches about defending the rights of the poor, the marginalized, the undocumented families. It speaks to bringing the oppressed out of the shadows, helping them possess the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
No one, no family, no population should be left behind — except gay and lesbian immigrants, bless their misguided souls. Leave them behind.
Equal immigration treatment is humane policy for everyone but same-sex couples. I had to reread a letter from Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair tucked into a recent parish bulletin.
He wrote about immigration reform as “an issue of great importance for our country and for the Church.” At first, I presumed he intended to galvanize diocesan support for the immigration law coming together on Capitol Hill.
“Most Catholics support their Bishops’ call for the creation of an immigration system that respects basic human rights and dignity while ensuring the integrity of our borders,” he said. Under the Senate immigration bill, he added, “more than 11 million undocumented persons could gain legal status in our country, and possibly citizenship.”
The bishop instructed local parishes to publish educational material from the bishops’ conference “to explain why the Church is concerned about immigration from a religious, moral, and social perspective.” So far so good.
Then came the caveat: “As the legislative process moves forward, issues may emerge which could hinder USCCB support of an immigration reform bill. Chief among them would be the addition of provisions which would treat same-sex couples as if married in the conferral of immigration benefits,” Bishop Blair wrote.
The letter said the bishops’ conference “is working to ensure that these provisions are not included in any final legislation.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), who sponsored amendments that would incorporate same-sex couples into immigration reform, countered in a statement: “For immigration reform to be truly comprehensive, it must include protections for all families. We must end the discrimination that gay and lesbian families face in our immigration law.”
Not if the bishops can help it. Their objection to extending protections to some immigrants threatens passage of reform for all.
Bishop Blair ended his letter by asking parishioners to pray “for a just resolution of this issue.” But there’s nothing just about working to exclude some of “our brothers and sisters, who are present-day immigrants,” from protection.
Pray for an end to prejudice.
Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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