About immigrants, from an immigrant

Originally Appeared in : 9918-8/29/19

Following my ordination as a priest, I never imagined that I would become so immersed in the issue of immigration. I knew that as an immigrant I would serve fellow immigrants, and I anticipated working with Spanish-speaking Catholics since I spoke Spanish. I could not imagine however that I would be bailing parishioners out of jail; serving as a mediator between the police department and my parishioners; helping parishioners go to marches in Atlanta and Washington; that I would be misquoted and attacked online and in the local newspaper; and I would get into debates with some pretty angry people.


The Church speaks on immigration issues because as Christians we recognize the dignity of every human person. We believe that this dignity is God-given, and not by any government. 


The contemporary atheist and German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, convinced the Church has much to offer in the refining of morality in the secular world, encourages the Church to speak up in the public forum in a language those outside the Church can understand. After advocating for the privatization of religion for many years, Habermas realized the indispensable role of the Church in the formation and continuation of culture, so he changed his philosophy. The Church’s rich tradition and centuries of contemplation have much to contribute to the public debate of many topics, not just immigration, but also healthcare, abortion, gun control, etc.


Many years ago, a parishioner approached me after having attended a talk on immigration at my parish given by a lawyer who represents Catholic interests at the State Capitol in Atlanta. The parishioner said to me respectfully, “Father, I still think that when you help these people, you are condoning what they have done. The church should not help them.” I responded gently, “twice a month, I go down to the state prison. I hear confessions, celebrate Mass and spend time with the men. Most of them are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. I go there because there is a need and because I recognize their unstained dignity before God.”


For years the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has called on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that recognizes the nation’s demand for labor. 


Most unauthorized immigrants in the United States are not high-skilled workers (engineers, lawyers, CEOs), and there is a need for them. Most work in agriculture, meatpacking, landscaping and construction industries which do not qualify as high-skilled work. The U.S. government officially makes available around 200,000 agricultural and non-agricultural temporary visas each year, but companies shy away from these because the red tape is tremendous and the expenses are high. Offering a higher number of temporary visas efficiently would significantly decrease unauthorized crossings of the border, and the overstaying of visas by foreigners. 


The United States Bishops firmly believe that immigrants should come into the United States lawfully, but they point out that the current immigration system does not recognize the country’s need for labor. The demand far exceeds the supply. The Church calls for a reform that increases the number of visas available for low-skilled workers which will, in turn, decrease the number of unauthorized entries into the country. 


The Church does not expect that governments will do her bidding, but she speaks so that individual hearts may be transformed. The Church will continue to challenge society to recognize the dignity of every human person and to embrace the consequences that follow from it. Immigration policy must respect the dignity of each person, and fix the disparity between the supply and demand of visas for workers that are needed. 


Father Pablo Migone is chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah.


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