The Face of Jesus in Undocumented Immigrants

An emotional pastoral letter to immigrants from the U.S. Hispanic Catholic bishops offers love, encouragement, welcome and sympathy to undocumented migrants and assurance that “you are not alone or forgotten.”

“We recognize that every human being, authorized or not, is an image of God and therefore possesses infinite value and dignity,” begins a strongly worded letter released on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. “We open our arms and hearts to you, and we receive you as members of our Catholic family.... We urge you not to despair,” said the letter, which was signed by 33 bishops. “Keep faith in Jesus the migrant, who continues to walk beside you. Have faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe, who constantly repeats to us the words she spoke to St. Juan Diego, ‘Am I, who am your mother, not here?’”

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Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., said the bishops wanted “to reach out to the immigrant community and express our concern for them, to speak to them in a spirit of solidarity.” Bishop Soto said that this outreach might be especially needed now because it “does not look promising” that the federal government will act anytime soon to improve the legal situation of millions of undocumented immigrants.

Bishop Soto said the letter was the result of a collaborative writing process among the Hispanic bishops. The bishops hope it will be used broadly around the country by all U.S. bishops. In the letter, the bishops expressed regret that some have reacted to the current domestic economic crisis by showing disdain for immigrants. “We will not find a solution to our problems by sowing hatred,” they said. “We will find the solution by sowing a sense of solidarity among all workers and co-workers—immigrants and citizens—who live together in the United States.”

“Your suffering faces” show the “true face of Jesus Christ,” the bishops wrote, noting migrants make for their families.

“Many of you perform the most difficult jobs and receive miserable salaries and no health insurance or Social Security,” they continued. “Despite your contributions to the well-being of our country, instead of receiving our thanks, you are often treated as criminals because you have violated current immigration laws.”

The bishops also acknowledged the pain suffered by families who have had someone deported or are threatened with deportation; the anxiety of waiting for legal residency status; and the frustration of young people who have grown up in the United States but lack the legal immigration status that would allow them to go on to college and get good jobs. “This situation cries out to God for a worthy and humane solution,” they wrote.

They reiterated the position they as individuals and as members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have taken in support of comprehensive immigration reform. Such legislation should respect family unity and provide “an orderly and reasonable process for unauthorized persons to attain citizenship.” It should include a program for worker visas that protect immigrants’ rights and that provides for their basic needs, they said.

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