(by Bishop John M. Quinn)
July 18, 2014
Pope Francis recently said “the measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need.” Today, undocumented children and families — who are our neighbors, service providers, co-workers and friends — are among those most in need.
They are living on the margins of society, often in fractured families and vulnerable to exploitation. The current humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children fleeing to the U.S.-Mexican border due to the violence in their countries of origin is a stark reminder of how desperate the situation has become. While specific policy questions may remain as to how to fix our immigration system, as well as the current border crisis, inaction is not the answer.
Last summer, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, which was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Although the legislation is not perfect, it goes a long way toward protecting vulnerable children and families who are living in the shadows of our communities. Unfortunately, since then, the U.S. House of Representatives has failed to act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, further exacerbating the urgent problems caused by our broken immigration system.
I continue to remain hopeful that Congress will enact meaningful immigration reform that provides millions of aspiring citizens with a roadmap to citizenship. Yet, this will require that we all look beyond fears and false rhetoric to find common ground.
I believe this common ground can be found at the heart of the immigration debate: the migrant families and their children. They are families, human beings, who are trapped in a broken system that often lures them here, exploits their labor and then pushes them deeper into the shadows of society where they are unable to become full members of our community.
We have about 22,000 immigrants throughout our 20 counties of the Diocese of Winona. We see the human face of a broken immigration system daily. We see families with children who are U.S. citizens and parents who are still in the process of getting their green cards and live in fear of being deported. Children live in fear that they might not see their parents again.
The families, children and U.S. workers, like those I have met, deserve more than the ineffective immigration system they currently face. They moved here to the “land of freedom and opportunity” in order to provide a better life for their children. They contribute to our economy, work and pay taxes like the rest of us (various reports estimate undocumented immigrants pay more than $10 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes) and yet live in fear of their family being torn apart, without notice, through detention and deportation.
I often hear people argue that creating a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented persons “rewards” people who break the law. Respect for the law is certainly an important value. Yet, I urge those who quickly dismiss immigrants as “lawbreakers” to get to know some of these beautiful people and their stories of unimaginable hardship, extreme poverty and danger that compelled them to come to the United States.
Similarly, the comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed by the Senate is sometimes inaccurately portrayed as rewarding illegal immigration or constituting “amnesty.” Though the bill creates a needed roadmap to citizenship, it is hardly a reward for crossing the border illegally. Before even being considered for citizenship, undocumented persons must complete a rigorous 13-year process which, among other things, requires paying multiple fines, avoiding all criminal activity, becoming proficient in speaking English and learning American civics.