Hello to all who read this blog.
As you know the first few blog posts have been educational in nature, as I have tried to do a mini-on-line, basic immigration 101 course. I want to continue that for a few more sessions, but in this post, I want to look at a related but different topic.
Last Tuesday was Election Day in the United States. The election for president was once again very closely contested, pointing out the continued divisions in our country. President Obama won somewhat easily in the Electoral College count, though the popular vote count was closer, 50% to 48%.
While the issue of immigration reform did come up during the campaign, it was not one of the primary themes that was being discussed. Yet in analyzing the results of the election, it is clear that the growing number of Hispanic/Latino voters did play an important role. For this reason and others, I want to share a few thoughts about the coming together of politics, elections and the issues that the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) deals with every day, immigration and border policy.
One of my jobs is to get out into the community of southern Arizona to offer talks and presentations precisely on issues such as immigration and border policy. For us at the KBI, these issues go straight to the heart of our faith. Welcoming the stranger is one of the most often mentioned themes in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Yet many people see immigration as a hot button political issue and are reticent to bring it up in their schools or churches. I understand and agree that immigration is indeed a political issue, as are abortion and capital punishment. But all are also deeply spiritual issues, and our faith has much to teach us about how to respond to questions about these issues.
Often when it is suggested that one take the teachings of their faith into consideration when it comes to issues that appears to be “political”, someone will inevitably invoke the principle of separation of Church and State. I find that many people often misinterpret what this important principle is really all about.
Thomas Jefferson invoked the principle of separation of Church and State in this way, declaring that legislatures should, “make no law respecting an establishment of a state religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Jefferson reflected his frequent speaking theme that the government is not to interfere with religion.
Therefore the idea behind the separation of Church and State is NOT that a person should not bring their religious beliefs to bear on her or his political decisions. But rather that the State should not impose any particular religion or religious beliefs on people. Many of our Founding Fathers were motivated by religious faith. Historically many of the most important changes in our country, abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement for instance, were led by people motivated by their faith.
People oppose abortion and capital punishment because of their religious beliefs. This is not only allowable but to be encouraged. Many people see immigration as a similar type of issue, one that is both political as well as having deeply religious implications.
As I referred to above, the Bible actually has almost 120 passages that speak of the need to welcome, take care of and love the stranger. The Biblical story can be seen as a migration story, where the uprooted People of God go seeking safety, sanctuary and refuge and the Living God giving directions for welcoming the stranger. From Adam and Eve, to Noah, Abraham, Moses to Jesus, Joseph and Mary, all found themselves on the move, migrating, following their God, on the road to a better life.
The Catholic Church in the United States has done a very good job addressing the issue. There are many documents produced by the bishops, even from the Vatican itself, emphasizing the issue of immigration as coming from the heart of our faith. The U.S. Catholic bishops have written documents, and produced educational material on the issue of immigration, making it clear that the Church supports the right to migrate and search for a better life. The Catholic Bishops of the United States have called for comprehensive immigration reform. The Catholic Bishops of Mexico and the United States issued a historic document in 2003 called, “Strangers No Longer, Together on the Journey of Hope”. This was the first time that the bishop’s conferences from two different countries had written and published a document together.
To quote from this document, “We speak as two episcopal conferences but as one Church, united in the view that migration between our two nations is necessary and beneficial. At the same time, some aspects of the migrant experience are far from the vision of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed: many persons who seek to migrate are suffering, and, in some cases, tragically dying; human rights are abused; families are kept apart; and racist and xenophobic attitudes remain.
In the spirit of ecclesial solidarity begun in that synod and promoted in Ecclesia in America, and aware of the migration reality our two nations live, we the bishops of Mexico and the United States seek to awaken our peoples to the mysterious presence of the crucified and risen Lord in the person of the migrant and to renew in them the values of the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed.
On January 23, 1999, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Pope John Paul II presented his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America, which resulted from the Synod of Bishops of America. In the spirit of ecclesial solidarity begun in that synod and promoted in Ecclesia in America, and aware of the migration reality our two nations live, we the bishops of Mexico and the United States seek to awaken our peoples to the mysterious presence of the crucified and risen Lord in the person of the migrant and to renew in them the values of the Kingdom of God that he proclaimed.”
When people of faith participate in the conversation regarding immigration and immigration reform, we all win. Bringing a faith based, respect for neighbor approach to the immigration debate is not only appropriate, but enriches and strengthens the ongoing conversation. People of faith have much to contribute to the ongoing debate and should be encouraged to participate.
For more information on what the Church teaches about immigration, or to make any comments, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 520-287-2370.