American immigration reform remains a heated political issue. But it is not just a theoretical political issue; it is a humanitarian one that impacts the basic dignity and life of a person, and at a broader level, the common good. It is foremost a moral issue.
Because of the grave humanitarian considerations of the debate, Catholics must welcome discussion about immigration and the challenges it presents.
Moral theologian Father Wojciech Giertych, current theologian of the pontifical household, once pointed out that the moral life requires creativity. And, creativity requires discussion. But throughout the discussion we must recognize and make a distinction: The legality of a person crossing into another country is one issue; the response to the person — their children or infants they bring — once he or she is here is another.
On a local and parish level, Catholics have a long history of reaching out to immigrant communities to address both spiritual and basic human needs.
Nationally, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports immigration reform that promotes, among other sustainable measures, economic initiatives that help people stay in their homelands. Grounded by Catholic social teaching, this twofold approach promotes the common good as it is oriented to the progress of persons (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1912).
The common good
In addition to the respect for the human person, an essential element of the common good is the social well-being and development of the group. Considering this, those in authority are called to mediate in the name of the common good, between various interests, but always making accessible to each person what is truly needed for a human life.
To get “creative,” our response to the person must be rooted in promoting the common good as it relates to authentic progress for a flourishing human life — for immigrants, ourselves, our communities and our country.
The DREAM Act
An acute example of the crisis in the immigration system is the situation of many young adult migrants who were brought into the United States illegally as infants or children.
In the years following their entry, they were educated in American schools, taught American values, and became responsible, hard-working members of society. Simply, they became American. Today, many dream of going to college but live under the threat of deportation and being forced to leave the only home they know.
The DREAM Act, introduced to Congress in 2009, gives students who fit screening criteria and who have grown up and graduated from high school in the U.S the opportunity to earn legal status through college or military service.
The inability of the federal government to, as of yet, enact sustainable changes and practical solutions to address the problems with the current immigration system harms the common good. The DREAM Act is one approach to addressing the issue in a way that promotes human progress. Access to education is a rung up the ladder out of poverty, a rung up the ladder to legal residence, and currently for the country, a rung up the ladder to long-term economic recovery and growth.
The U.S. bishops are calling on all Catholics to support the DREAM Act through prayer and education, because fundamental to promoting the well-being and development of the group is allowing everyone to reach their God-given potential.
The USCCB goal is to continue the call for the DREAM Act while also urging President Obama to protect vulnerable populations, including DREAM Act eligible youth and parents of citizen children, from unwarranted detention and deportation.
Unsuccessful efforts have been made to pass similar bills since 2001. The USCCB expects the DREAM Act to be part of the broad reforms Congress will debate this year, based on the recent words and actions of the leaders in Congress as well of the president.
Pray for DREAM weekend
The USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants Campaign is facilitating Pray for the DREAM weekend and encouraging priests and laity to participate. Between Sept. 18 and Oct. 9, dioceses, parishes and other faith groups will be planning events and incorporating petitions, homilies and prayers into Sunday Masses in support of our DREAM Act eligible students and youth.
The JFI Campaign is coordinating events and Masses in support of immigrant youth with a special focus on Sunday, Sept. 25, although parishes can choose other Sundays as well.
Visit MCC’s online Immigration page, under “Issues,” for JFI event organizing, education (such as an immigration myths vs. facts) and homily tools.
Support the chance for innocent immigrant youth to succeed and reach their God-given potential. “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).
Jessica Zittlow is communications associate at the Minnesota Catholic Conference.