Pope Francis, speaking to the Hispanic community and other immigrants in Philadelphia, cited our nation’s Declaration of Independence to emphasize that all men and women are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. He said governments exist to protect and defend those rights, and that the truths of our nation’s foundational document must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended. The Holy Father spoke of the United States’ gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans. He gave his talk Sept. 26. A string of developments in the wake of his talk seem to contradict the words of our Declaration of Independence.
First, a Texas judge has decided that inalienable rights don’t belong to newborn American citizens whose parents are undocumented. Second, a coalition of immigration organizations says our federal government isn’t abiding by a court order to release from detention facilities undocumented children and mothers seeking refuge in the U.S. Third, some members of Congress are seeking to punish those communities whose law officers fail to comply with immigration detainer requests. Senate Bill 2146 — Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act — would yank Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from these communities and would require mandatory minimum sentences for certain immigration violations.
All three of these developments are punitive measures intended to crack down on “illegal” immigration. In reality, they punish innocent people seeking only what every family wants: to have their basic needs met and to thrive in a home where they feel welcome and safe.
In Texas, discrimination came to a head after the Department of State Health Services rejected as invalid certain forms of identification that undocumented parents presented when they attempted to obtain their American-born children’s birth certificates. Twenty-eight parents from Mexico and Central America sought relief in district court for 32 children. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, while seemingly empathetic, on Oct. 16 denied the parents an emergency injunction because he believed Texas has a greater right to protect the integrity of the birth certificate as a document.
The U.S. Department of Human Services, meanwhile, appears to be using bureaucratic excuses — and an appeal — to avoid complying with a court order to release children from detention facilities without unnecessary delay, preferably to a parent. The government is also prohibited from holding children in secure facilities or in facilities not licensed for the care of dependent children. None of the three current family detention centers meet these standards, according to the coalition of immigration groups advocating on behalf of the families. Hundreds of children and mothers remain in these facilities today.
An isolated tragedy, in which an undocumented Hispanic man shot and killed a California woman, accelerated the third development — which punishes an entire ethnic group for the actions of one individual. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a strong supporter of the Stop Sanctuary Policies and Protect Americans Act, argues that the bill is a “common sense solution to protect communities, instead of putting them in danger.” The bill’s opponents say it is a backlash against municipal policing policies, which are intended to reduce and prevent crime.
The bottom line: our Declaration of Independence says one thing; our actions demonstrate the opposite. As a result, our country is creating an underclass of people who cannot work, cannot enroll in higher education, resulting in a larger and larger segment of the population being unskilled, unemployed, but trying to feed and house themselves and their families.
What will come of lack of hope, continual frustration at seeing how the “good” folks live, while the “bad” folks are set upon at every turn? The Gospel, which Pope Francis preaches and lives, requires us to act with justice. First, we need to make an effort to get to know immigrants in our community; attend a Spanish language Mass or a Hispanic cultural or religious event. We will be publishing a list in The Catholic Messenger in the coming weeks. Second, contact Sen. Grassley and other members of Congress to introduce fair and just immigration reform. Pray that all may have a change of heart toward welcoming the stranger.