Comprehensive immigration reform is a moral imperative, and one which should not be delayed any longer. Our immigration system lacks a solid moral foundation based on human dignity and is taking a deep toll on immigrants, their families, and our communities. It is inconsistent, ineffective, and does not serve the good of all Americans. The current humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children fleeing from violence in their countries of origin to the U.S./Mexican border is a stark reminder of how serious the situation has become.
As the Roman Catholic bishop of New Ulm, I see the consequences of our present immigration system each day. Families are divided when a member is picked up in the middle of the night and deported. Children live in fear as to whether or not they will see their parents when they come home from school. Workers are exploited and fear seeking help. Our Hispanic Ministry Office and charities are busy assisting those who have nowhere else to turn.
Approximately 11 million undocumented people are living in this country-our brothers and our sisters-and aspire to become citizens and participate fully in our communities. They came to the United States seeking jobs and the promise of a better life. Yet, they are relegated to the status of a permanent underclass. Given this situation, we are called to put into practice the biblical moral principle found throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, namely, to welcome the stranger in our midst.
Welcoming the stranger has always been part of the American way of life. We are a nation of immigrants. Different waves of migration have given the United States its rich cultural history, each contributing something to our common life. Despite diversity in language, ethnicity, race, religion, and heritage, everyone and anyone has had the opportunity to become an American and to live with dignity.
Being an American is not about where you came from or a particular ethnicity. It is a commitment to the founding ideals of our republic-namely, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
There have been darker moments in our nation's history when some sought to define an American by his or her race, ethnicity, or creed. Some were excluded from citizenship because they were the wrong color. Other times, religious minorities, including Catholics, were persecuted because they supposedly posed a threat to American institutions.
In many instances, such movements were overcome with a renewed commitment to American ideals and their extension to new groups of people. This was the goal of Abraham Lincoln who rejected both slavery and the aims of anti-Catholic political groups. He worked to forge "a new birth of freedom" in his Gettysburg Address and other writings by demonstrating the immorality of such injustices through referencing the ideals found in the Declaration of Independence.
We are faced with a similar human rights challenge today. Will our country create a roadmap to citizenship for the millions of immigrants living in our midst or not? I think that reforming our immigration system stands as an important human rights test. Will we seek to embrace those who aspire to become Americans and share our common freedoms by offering them a roadmap to citizenship, or will immigration reform be stalled by racism, fear, and appeals to preserve a historically inaccurate vision of "American culture"?
The issue of immigration reform is, admittedly, a complex one. People of good faith on both sides of the issue can disagree on the specifics of reform, but they should not in good conscience sit on the sidelines and do nothing. Millions of our brothers and sisters are living in the shadows and their plight demands a response.
Based on significant pastoral experience working with those in migrant communities, the Catholic bishops of the United States have recommended some key elements that must be included in a comprehensive immigration reform package: 1) an earned legalization program for foreign nationals of good moral character to apply to obtain lawful permanent residence; 2) a foreign-born guest worker program; 3) a family?based immigration system; 4) a mechanism for the restoration of due process rights; 5) a formal examination and addressing of the root causes of migration; and, 6) a mechanism for enforcement and secure borders.
We believe that the reform package passed by the U.S. Senate meets these goals and should be signed into law. It is not an "amnesty," but instead offers people a roadmap to citizenship that takes 13 years, involves significant fines, and requires good moral character and the study of the English language and American government. This approach respects the dignity of the human person while also advancing the American values of freedom and opportunity. My brother bishops and I continue to call on the U.S. House of Representatives to take up immigration reform legislation, as well as address the humanitarian crisis on the border, as soon as possible, and we encourage all Americans to offer their input in this important debate before our window of opportunity closes.