Catholics called to advocate for immigrants

By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor

Patti Gutierrez, who works with immigrants at a parish in the Diocese of Owensboro, spoke at a workshop on immigration reform May 16. (Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Patti Gutierrez, who works with immigrants at a parish in the Diocese of Owensboro, spoke at a workshop on immigration reform May 16. (Photo by Marnie McAllister)

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — Immigration laws in this country are ripe for change and with enough advocacy from the Catholic faithful, comprehensive and just immigration reform is possible. This was the message the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK) conveyed during a workshop May 16 at St. James Church.

Immigration reform “is about real people struggling everyday in our parishes,” Patti Gutierrez told about 45 people from around the state who attended the program. Gutierrez, who works with immigrants at a parish in the Diocese of Owensboro, was one of the speakers at the day-long workshop.

She and the other speakers called on the participants to take action after the workshop by educating other people about the church’s teaching on immigration and contacting lawmakers who are considering federal immigration reform. U.S. Senate Bill 744, which would overhaul current immigration law, was approved by the Senate judiciary committee May 21.

Among the participants in last week’s training were parishioners, pastors, women religious and church workers. A second training in Lexington, Ky., was set for today.

To prepare them for their mission, the workshop presented real-life scenarios that illustrate the challenges faced by immigrants and examined how these problems can be addressed by comprehensive reform. The CCK, which represents the state’s four bishops, also presented an analysis of the Senate bill.

Gutierrez opened the morning session by describing the difficulties struggling families experience if they choose a legal route of immigration.

“In our diocese, a majority of immigrants are economic immigrants,” she said. “They left (their home countries) because they couldn’t find work.”

To enter the United States legally, they might have to wait decades, if ever they are admitted. In the meantime, their families struggle to meet basic needs each day, she said.

Gutierrez posed the question, “Why does the church talk about this issue” especially since it tends to be politicized and polarizing?

Rosemary Smith, left, and Larry Howe-Kerr, both members of the Church of the Epiphany, discussed the struggles immigrants face in the United States during a program in Elizabethtown, Ky., May 16. (Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Rosemary Smith, left, and Larry Howe-Kerr, both members of the Church of the Epiphany, discussed the struggles immigrants face in the United States during a program in Elizabethtown, Ky., May 16. (Photo by Marnie McAllister)

First, she noted, the Catholic Church in the United States “is an immigrant church. It was built for immigrants and continues to serve immigrants.

“We believe that God instills dignity in every person,” she said, noting that it’s critical for Catholics to examine the issue through the lens of their faith.

To help Catholics understand church teaching, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have written five principles of Catholic social teaching on migration. They are:

  • Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
  •  Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
  •  Sovereign nations have a right to control their borders.
  •  Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
  •  The human rights and human dignity of undocumented immigrants should be respected.

In the second part of the workshop, Jason Hall, associate director of the CCK, explained that the U.S. bishops have used these teachings on migration to establish criteria they believe should be included in immigration reform. Hall then compared those criteria to Senate Bill 744.

The 800-page bill and its 300 amendments, “as written, would be an improvement of the system,” he said. “But there are some problems. The bishops are trying to identify the good amendments.”

Hall said the bill, which now goes to the Senate floor, is likely to continue to change. (Read a story about the bishops’ response to the bill’s progress.)

Gutierrez said that if people don’t get involved in this issue, become passionate about it and call their legislators, a just immigration reform won’t pass.

For more information about the church’s teaching and the bishops’ criteria for just reform, visit the bishops’ Justice for Immigrants website www.justiceforimmigrants.org. To get involved with the CCK, visit ccky.org

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