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Eye on the

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinMarch 10, 2006 Issue 

There are good reasons to help immigrants to the U.S.

Catholic leaders have been outspoken on the need for some positive reforms

By John Huebscher

photo of John Huebscher
John Huebscher

Catholic leaders in many places are weighing in on the question of how laws and public policies should address the needs of men, women and children who migrate from their native country to another one in search of a better life.

Pope Benedict spoke eloquently on the subject on Jan. 15, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. He reminded us that migration can be voluntary or forced, legal or illegal or for work or study. He also noted that the church encourages overcoming every form of discrimination, injustice and contempt of the human person, because everyone is an image of God.

On Jan. 5, the Archbishop of Dublin, in a moving homily reflected on the Epiphany's message of "a wider human family." Perhaps recalling the treatment of many who migrated from Ireland to other lands in past centuries, Abp. Dairmuid Martin called on his nation to welcome immigrants. He specifically endorsed the notion that those who have lived peacefully in Ireland for five years should be permitted to have their status "regularized."

Here in the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is making a major effort on behalf of immigrants through its "Justice for Immigrants" campaign.

The Committee on Migration, chaired by Bp. Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., is urging Catholics across the nation to press the U.S. Senate to back bi-partisan legislation authored by Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The McCain-Kennedy proposal is much more than an enforcement only approach to immigration reform. Rather, it provides a comprehensive approach to solving the ills of our current system.

The U.S. Bishops' stance on immigration reform recognizes that any serious proposal for reforming our immigration system must deal with the large and growing population of those who are here without proper immigration status.

Closer to home Abp. Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee affirmed the cause of justice for immigrants in a recent column. In that column he expressed the hope that legitimate concerns for our security be accompanied by positive elements that provide for earned legalization, temporary worker programs and reductions in visa backlogs.

He said that any legislation that would make all undocumented individuals criminals, remove due process protections and punish those who help undocumented immigrants is "simply inhuman, un-American and immoral."

In our state legislature, the WCC has registered its opposition to a proposal to restrict the access of undocumented immigrants to certain public benefits. A significant number of those affected by this bill are children. Some of these children are undocumented themselves. Others were born in the U.S., but their parents were not, and will be fearful of seeking help for their families.

None of the statements or positions cited above assumes that nations should not control their own borders. Nor does anyone assert that unrestricted immigration is practical or desirable. But each of them exhorts us to remember that every immigrant, documented or not, is a human being with a dignity deserving of our respect. Legalism must not blind us to that fact.

Our Catholic witness on behalf of immigrants who lack legal status is not popular. It runs counter to the notion that those we help should be "deserving." But before we embrace such a notion, we might recall that the God who speaks to us in John 3:16 sent his only Son out of the depths of his love, not after a calculus that we "earned" such a gift.

That is why Catholic leaders throughout the church are taking up the cause of justice for immigrants.

(Huebscher is executive director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops.)

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