By Msgr. Marvin Mottet
Immigration is a complex and controversial issue. Controversial: Hate groups have increased 50 percent in the U.S. in recent years, most of them because of immigration. Most of the hate targets Latinos. One major and well-funded group is headed by known white supremacists. The current economic recession makes immigration even more controversial.
But, for Catholics, this is more than a political or legal matter. It is a matter of faith. The word “catholic” means universal, and the immigrants are our own brothers and sisters in faith. The future of the Catholic Church in the U.S. is very much impacted by immigrants, as it has been in the past. If ever there was an immigrant church, we are it. If it were not for Latino immigrants, the church in the U.S. today would be in decline. We are culturally enriched by these immigrants. Among other values, they bring a tradition of strong family life and a lively liturgy.
But immigration involves more than Latinos. As just one example, we are told that there are 300,000 “illegal” Irish in the New York area, but we do not hear of raids there. Two percent of the world’s population is on the move because of war, political upheaval and extreme poverty. The church teaches that, although nations have a right to secure their borders, people have a right to move around the world to find a better living for their families. God made the world for all people, not just certain people.
The Catholic bishops of the U.S., including Iowa, have taken a strong stand on this issue. U.S. and Mexican bishops have met several times over their pastoral concern for their people. They are especially concerned about divided families. U.S. Catholic bishops asked the Bush Administration to stop immigration raids until the system is reformed. The system is badly broken and needs complete reform so that there can be legal and orderly immigration with high priority to reuniting families that have been split. (See other stories on this page for examples.)
In our own state, we have the manmade tragedy of Postville, which occurred with an immigration raid May 12, 2008, on a meat packing plant. Nearly 400 people were detained. At the time, it was the largest raid in the history of the U.S. Postville proved that enforcement alone is not the right approach. Families were split. Women have been walking around for months with monitoring devices known as GPS ankle bracelets. They cannot leave and they cannot work. The church and other private agencies are left with the heavy burden of providing support. Court action continues to be delayed for many months. The raid has seriously damaged the economy in that part of the state.
Nor are our hands completely clean in this matter. We help to create the problem by dumping heavily-subsidized grain on the market in Mexico and Central America, driving the small farmers there out of business. They move north to find jobs that will support their families. Thorough reform of the immigration system should be a special concern for faithful Catholics.
(Msgr. Mottet is a retired priest of the Diocese of Davenport and a former social action director.)