A century ago, immigrants in Louisville came from Germany, Italy, France and Ireland. Now, a majority of immigrants in this part of the United States emigrate from Latin America.
They are coming for many of the same reasons as their predecessors a hundred years ago. They are in economic distress; they want to provide a better life for their families through work and education. Some are fleeing violence. And others are trying desperately to reunite with family members who emigrated years earlier.
As Catholics, we are called to see today’s immigrants and those of a century ago, divided only by time, as one in the same.
And the bishops of the United States are calling on Catholics to advocate for the modern newcomers this summer as Congress considers an immigration reform measure,
Senate Bill 744 — the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration, urged Congress on Monday to approve the measure that’s currently being debated on the Senate floor.
“The outcome of this debate — and of the one to follow in the House of Representatives — will impact the future of our nation in the 21st century and beyond,” Archbishop Gomez said during a press conference in San Diego on June 10. “Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals and schools, we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system.
“Families are separated, migrant workers are exploited and our fellow human beings die in the desert,” he said. “Without positive change to our immigration laws, we cannot help our brothers and sisters.”
That’s the crux of the debate for people of faith. It is our duty to care for the least, most vulnerable among us.
Immigrants certainly must be counted among the vulnerable. They are exploited for labor, sold for commercial sex, victimized by criminals and afraid to report crimes. They suffer for years separated from loved ones who wait in their countries of origin, still enduring the violence or privations that first prompted emigration.
Patti Gutierrez, who works with immigrants at a parish in the Diocese of Owensboro, says immigration reform “is about real people struggling every day in our parishes.” She spoke at a workshop at St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., last month and helped participants understand the plight of immigrants.
She explained that a legal path to enter the United States is an impossible dream for most immigrants. As they look fruitlessly for work in depressed economies, husbands and fathers, mothers and wives make a decision to feed their starving families by coming to the United States. In the same way a person might steal a loaf of bread to feed a starving family, immigrants without legal status cross the United States border for survival.
The U.S. bishops don’t support Senate Bill 744 in total. They take issue with an amendment that mandates border control as a prerequisite for paths to legalization. And they’re concerned about amendments that would make the path to citizenship difficult to achieve. The want to see a bill that helps families reunite and that makes it easier to obtain legal status.
Kentucky’s four bishops, who are represented by the Catholic Conference of Kentucky (CCK), also want immigration reform to address the causes of immigration.
“There is currently nothing in the bill that addresses the root causes of migration that, if addressed, we believe could benefit the lives of those who remain in the sending nations and relieve pressure on our borders because fewer person would desire to migrate,” said a June 10 blog post on the CCK website, ccky.org.
That post also offered some suggestions to those who want to advocate for just immigration reform. They include praying for the bill’s progress, talking about the issue from a faith perspective and sending post cards to lawmakers, especially Kentucky’s senators, in support of Senate Bill 744.
The CCK also is urging the faithful to follow the organization on Twitter and Facebook to receive updates about this and other issues.
Father Patrick Delahanty, the CCK’s executive director, is adamant that people take action. He said during the workshop at St. James Church that reform won’t happen unless people take action.
And there is much at stake. Archbishop Gomez said in Monday’s press conference, “In the end, the outcome of this debate will not only affect our nation’s future — it will impact our soul.”
Record Assistant Editor