There was a lot of debate during the presidential election about immigration reform, and the U.S. bishops issued a letter about immigration policy during their recent meeting in November. What have the bishops said regarding immigration? The bishops’ Committee on Migration sent a letter to President-elect Trump. The chair of the committee, Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, basically called on the president-elect to “continue to protect the inherent dignity of refugees and migrants.” We aren’t sure at this point what the new president will do regarding immigration reform. He said during the election that he would build a wall on our southern border with Mexico and talked about deporting up to 11 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally. But in a recent interview on “60 Minutes,” President-elect Trump said he was looking at a plan to deport 2 million to 3 million people whom he described as “criminals and have criminal records” and entered the country without permission. We affirmed the statement by the Migration Committee and pledged to work with the new administration “to promote the common good.” I think what is critical for everyone to recognize is that family life is the cornerstone of society, and we hope the new administration will take that into consideration when formulating its immigration policies. The bottom line is families should remain intact. We would not want to see some members of the family being forced to return to their home country and some members staying here. The family unit is sacred. We also believe people should not be sent back into dangerous situations.
What is the basis for church teaching on immigration?
The church says people have a right to freedom, and they have a right to be protected. If people need to leave their country to protect themselves or their families, we should be open to receiving them and giving them a chance to live their lives productively and in safety. We have to remember that Jesus himself was a refugee. The original European settlers of America were immigrants, so we should look at our present-day immigrants with compassion. The church has never said, “Just throw open your borders and everybody come on in.” The church has always insisted that countries have a legitimate interest in having people go through a process of legal immigration leading to getting a visa or eventually earning the right to citizenship. This process should be done legally, and the church should do whatever it can to help people who come here in search of a better life.
What have some of your fellow bishops from border areas in Texas and Arizona told you about the reality of immigration?
Their perspective is that people are living in fear and fleeing for their lives. Some of the immigrants from Mexico have been living in the midst of gangs, and they are running to save their lives. Part of our identity as Catholics is welcoming and serving the needs of people who are fleeing violence and conflict. This is a pro-life pillar that we will continue to uphold. The question is what can we as a church do to be of assistance.
What would comprehensive immigration reform look like?
We need a process that is fair. I’m not sure, but it must be based on justice and charity.
What is the church doing regarding immigrants who have come to this country?
There’s been a lot of news about Syrian refugees who have come to the U.S. and have been resettled by Catholic Charities and other church-related groups. We are simply working with the people that our federal government has said are not terrorists and will be a contribution to our society. We are trying to help them start a new life. In the U.S. – and in New Orleans – even undocumented people are paying sales taxes. They are not paying income taxes, but if they ever did become American citizens, they would pay income tax. Many undocumented immigrants are taking the jobs that nobody else would take, and many are in our churches every week because they are people of faith. Everyone in this area realizes how much slower our recovery from Katrina would have been had it not been for the hard work of so many immigrants who came here after the storm.
What has Pope Francis said about all of this?
The pope recognizes what is going on. There are more than 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced around the world, and he recognizes their right to live in freedom. In some parts of the Middle East, making the sign of the cross is an act for which a person can be martyred. Many people are leaving their homeland because of religious persecution. The Holy Father is calling on every nation to offer hospitality to the people who most need it. That same hospitality was shown to our grandparents and great-grandparents when they came to the U.S.
Archbishop Aymond can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.