The U.S. Supreme Court announced this week that it would hear a case involving a controversial Arizona law that, among other things, makes it a crime under state law for illegal immigrants to work or try to find work, and that requires police to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if they believe the person might be in the country illegally.
The law itself has spawned similar laws in other states that have taken a piecemeal and all-too-often overly punitive approach to regulating immigration in the absence of comprehensive reform on the federal level that is needed to fix a system that most people — regardless of their position on the issue — agree is broken.
The court can help provide some clarity about what provisions fall under the purview of the states and what more rightfully belong to the federal government in the interest of fairness and consistency for all.
Any immigration law, state or federal, must balance the need for secure borders and an orderly process with respect for individual human dignity, basic human needs and keeping families intact — all provisions supported by the Catholic Church and reiterated most recently in a Dec. 12 pastoral letter written by Hispanic and Latino Catholic bishops in the United States.
Their letter, released on the same day as the Supreme Court announcement, contains several passages notable for their heartfelt sentiments — not about ideas for political solutions but about the human dimensions of the immigration issue:
- “We recognize that every human being, authorized or not, is an image of God and therefore possesses infinite value and dignity.”
- “The economic crisis has had an impact on the entire U.S. community. Regretfully, some in reaction to this environment of uncertainty show disdain for immigrants and even blame them for the crisis. We will not find a solution to our problems by sowing hatred. We will find the solution by sowing a sense of solidarity among all workers and co-workers — immigrants and citizens — who live together in the United States.”
- “It pains and saddens us that many of our Catholic brothers and sisters have not supported our petitions for changes in the immigration law that will protect your basic rights while you contribute your hard work to our country. We promise to keep working to bring about this change.”
- “We are not going to wait until the law changes to welcome you who are already here into our churches, for as St. Paul tells us, ‘You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors; you are fellow-citizens with the holy people of God and part of God’s household.’”
- “Keep faith in Jesus the migrant who continues to walk beside you.”
The feast of the Epiphany, to be celebrated Jan. 8, is an annual time when our Minnesota bishops ask us to remember the human face of the immigration issue, to welcome the migrants and strangers among us because they are part of the same body of Christ.
In anticipation of Immigration Sunday on that date, the bishops have set up a website that recommends books and educational activities for youth, adults and parishes to learn more about today’s immigrants as well as the immigrant past that is so much a part of our own family histories.
Ultimately, the church cannot pass laws, but it can walk with immigrants and help the rest of us to better understand who today’s newcomers are, the challenges they face, and the impact the system has on their lives and the lives of their families.
And, it can help us recognize the God-given human dignity of these new arrivals, particularly the poor and marginalized — many of whom we see toiling every day in restaurants and hotels, factories and farm fields for low pay and few benefits, while often separated from spouses and children.
Christ recognized the image of God in the faces of the people he encountered. We, as well as our lawmakers and judges who make and review laws, must see with those same eyes to bring about immigration policies that are fair, just and humane for all.