APPLETON — Calling on Catholics to “get courageous” in the fight for immigration reform, Bishop David L. Ricken on Sunday urged parishes throughout the 16-county Diocese of Green Bay to join in convincing Congress of the need for immediate, compassionate and just reform of this country’s immigration laws and policies.
Speaking from the pulpit at St. Therese Church in Appleton, which has a large Hispanic membership, Bishop Ricken said a pending debate before the U.S. House of Representatives surrounding immigration reform presents “a moment of opportunity that may not be here again.”
Bishop Ricken had declared the day as “Immigration Sunday,” joining dioceses in 22 other states to promote Congressional approval of comprehensive immigration reform including a clear path to U.S. citizenship.
“We are asking you to write to your legislators encouraging them not to miss the golden opportunity and open window we have right now to do good and just immigration reform,” Bishop Ricken said in his message to Catholics.
Senate passes reform bill
The U.S. Senate in June passed a sweeping immigration reform bill that would, in part, increase legal immigration of low- and high-skilled workers, bolster border security and give green cards to the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants who pass background checks and pay fines.
House members want stronger measures including more border security and stricter limits on unauthorized immigrants seeking work in the U.S.
Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, like Basilisa Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who has been living in Appleton the past nine years, welcome the church’s push for meaningful reform.
“People who believe in God have to believe in justice,” said Hernandez, a member of St. Therese.
Hernandez and her husband, who is also an undocumented immigrant, have four children, all born in this country, automatically making them U.S. citizens. The couple came to the U.S. when they married 13 years ago.
“Like many immigrants I walked across the border, walking for almost 10 hours. We are not criminals, but they call us illegals. We don’t want to live in the shadows anymore,” Hernandez said. “I want to be a citizen so I can be open with my life and get a job and volunteer at school. I want to help people, but I can’t do what I want because people will ask about your background and your Social Security number, but I don’t have that. Every day is a challenge because you drive without a driver’s license. You pray that God is with you.
“Now the church has the opportunity to show its support for us because we are not just immigrants. We are humans also,” Hernandez said.
Most Americans are immigrants
“It’s important that none of us forget our roots that most of us came to this country through an immigration process,” Bishop Ricken said, recalling the warm treatment his own grandparents received when they emigrated from Germany more than 100 years ago.
“Our hearts should go out to others who want to come to this great nation,” he added.
Bishop Ricken said the Senate version of immigration reform to be considered by the House “is not perfect, but it’s a big step in the right direction.”
“We (Catholics) need to weigh in with the gift of our Gospel message and the teachings of the church. That is a unique contribution we can make (to the immigration debate). The onus is on us to do that, otherwise we are cheating our country. We are not helping our country to embrace the values which our church can bring in a unique way,” Bishop Ricken said.
‘Religion not a political thing’
“People say to me, ‘Bishop, the church isn’t supposed to be about politics, is it?’ I say, ‘No. I’m not a politician.’ Religion is not a political thing and yet by our own teaching we are called to make a difference in the world in which we live, especially when it comes to life and human dignity,” Bishop Ricken said.
He said the church is not telling politicians what to do, but making sure they keep a series of principles in mind when voting on comprehensive immigration reform.
Those principles include working as a country on global poverty to help other countries provide for their own, expanding opportunities to reunite families torn apart by U.S. immigration laws, and encouraging establishment of a temporary worker program.
For example, Bishop Ricken noted, areas of the diocese have a need for agricultural workers to fill jobs wanted by no one else.
“We recognize many people want to stay in their own country, like Mexico, but they need to come here and earn enough money to send back to their families. Their work here helps us get the job done in providing food for our own area, for the country and, yes, even food for the whole world,” Bishop Ricken said. “The temporary work we would recommend includes a path to permanent residency which is actually achievable and verifiable.”
What reform should allow
Bishop Ricken said immigration reform should allow immediate family members to join workers already in this country, establish job portability allowing workers to change employers, include labor protections equal to those afforded U.S. workers along with enforcement of those protections, promote wages and benefits that do not undercut domestic workers, allow mobility between an immigrant’s homeland and the U.S. and within this country, and establish labor market tests to ensure U.S. workers are not being harmed by immigration policies.
“What we are trying to do is help our legislators make decisions on some key principles,” Bishop Ricken said. “Catholics need to be courageous in presenting these principles over and over and over again because the temptation is to treat one another poorly, especially those we don’t know or who are foreigners among us. The temptation is to push them aside and treat them like dirt. Our country has never treated our immigrants that way, at least not in policy. People do want to come here and come here properly.”
During his Immigration Sunday presentation, Bishop Ricken praised the efforts of the diocesan Office of Living Justice in getting the word out to parishes on helping address the needs of immigrants.
Living Justice director Catherine Orr said the foundation of helping the immigrant population “comes down to human dignity.”
“Living Justice is a way for people to look at their faith and how they can apply it to their life,” Orr said. “The beauty of Catholic social teaching is it looks beyond partisan politics. Immigration is a complex issue and Living Justice brings more awareness to the issue.”
Postcard campaign for reform
Orr’s office supplied scores of self-addressed postcards to people attending the Immigration Sunday Mass at St. Therese.
The postcards, addressed to the U.S. House of Representatives in the name of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, noted that card signers agree with the USCCB that now is the time for just and compassionate immigration reform.
“An issue like immigration reform is easy to put out-of-sight and out-of-mind,” Orr said. “There is a need for greater awareness. We need to pray and advocate on this issue. It can be very complex and confusing, but very simple at the same time.”
Orr said it’s important for Bishop Ricken to help in the education of Catholics and why they should be involved in immigration reform.
“He is the leader of our diocese, including Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” Orr said. “I love how Bishop Ricken said this is not about politics. It’s about Catholics proclaiming the Gospel to better transform the world. That really hits home. Immigration reform is about welcoming Christ into our parishes and welcoming all individuals and being hospitable.”
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info”]