An Act of Love

When asked about immigration on April 6, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida made a distinction between those who overstay visas and those who enter the country illegally “because they had no other means to work” and were concerned about providing food for their children. “Yes, they broke the law,” he explained, “but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.” With immigration reform legislation at a standstill in Congress and the number of deported immigrants under President Barack Obama nearing two million, Mr. Bush’s accurate and compassionate portrayal of our immigrant brothers and sisters offers some hope. Will his fellow politicians heed the message and throw their support behind comprehensive immigration reform in 2014?

A report released last month during a meeting co-hosted by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that Congress should pass immigration reform, but for a seldom expressed purpose: the benefit of U.S. businesses. The report, “A Crucial Piece of the Puzzle: Demographic Change and Why Immigrants are Needed to Fill America’s Less-Skilled Labor Gap,” explains that between 1990 and 2010, the supply of low-skill jobs—those requiring a high school degree or less—has remained steady. But the number of U.S.-born workers willing to fill these positions has drastically fallen, dropping by nearly 1 percent each year.

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Because of this drop, employers across the country struggle to fill certain positions. Farmers, for example, are sometimes forced to abandon crops because they have no workers to harvest them. The report says that factors like lower birth rates and increasing educational opportunities in the United States make immigrant workers not only helpful to the U.S. economy but essential. Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, believes it is time for Congress to address this widening gap. “Immigration reform would create a means to bring in more workers to carry the load created by demographic realities,” he said in a statement.

The recent visit to Arizona by members of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration also stressed the need for immigration reform. On April 1, several bishops, led by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, O.F.M.Cap., of Boston, traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border at Nogales, Ariz., and celebrated Mass for the thousands of migrants who have died crossing the desert. As hundreds of people gathered on both sides of the border, Cardinal O’Malley said in his homily, “The hard work and sacrifices of so many immigrant peoples is the secret of the success of this country.” The cardinal described the negative attitudes toward immigrants as “xenophobic ranting” and reminded the public that the “immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well-being of the United States.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (No. 2241). At the same time, governments also have a right and duty to secure their borders and enforce immigration laws. In reflecting on these principles, the U.S. Catholic bishops have rightly rejected an “enforcement only” approach and outlined several components of reform: an earned legalization program that includes a path to citizenship; family-based provisions that increase the number of family visas and reduce the waiting time for family reunification; and a worker program that allows foreigners to enter the country legally and protects their rights. The worker program would help U.S. businesses fill the low-skilled worker gap.

Last June, the Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill that, though not perfect, includes many of the provisions outlined by the U.S. bishops. Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, then chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said the legislation passed by the Senate improves upon the status quo, a state of affairs that “causes much suffering among immigrants and their families and must end.” The House of Representatives should pass this bill, which President Obama is poised to sign.

The United States needs to recognize the value of immigrants not only for economic reasons but also for their social and cultural contributions. In “More Deeply Into the World” (Reply All, 4/21), Michael Baxter and William T. Cavanaugh refer to the blessed “mixedness” of immigrants, the diversity Latino immigrants bring to the United States through their blend of U.S. and Latino culture. We should also remember, as Cardinal O’Malley said, that these immigrants “will be the citizens of tomorrow,” and we “cannot be indifferent in the face of such suffering.”

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Leon Fager
3 years 7 months ago
I don't agree that we should forgive illegal aliens and them become American citizens. We have too many humans in the US and we should not add more. Our wild places are already in jeopardy due to human impacts. Our wildlife and other natural ressorces cannot tolerate any further human intrusion and they will eventually suffer. Iilegal immigrants are generally uneducated and have no interest in our history and culture most cannot even speak English and we certainly don't need more ignorant people in our country. We need to deport these people as soon as possible and watch our crime rates decrease.
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 7 months ago
Mr. Fager, I understand your ecological concerns but I am more concerned about the human ecology and about the humanitarian nighmare of deporting 11 million people. I don't know where you got your data, but, for your information, most immigrants are hardworking and law abiding members of our communities.
Egberto Bermudez
3 years 7 months ago
I applaud this editorial. I am proud of all that the American bishops have done and are doing in favor of immigrants, and I welcome Jeb Bush’s compassionate comments about immigrants; nevertheless, more than words are needed from our politicians from both political parties: the House of Representatives should pass the bill. What I find more tragic about the status quo is the break up of families, because I am a husband and a father. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more than 5 million children are growing up in homes with illegal parents, and about 80% are American citizens; therefore, when the father is deported the children are left with a single mother to raise them in poverty. Is this the vicious cycle and the social problem that we want to create for our future? You may also read a related article and my previous comments if you click the following link: http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/our-lampedusa-nogales-arizona
J Cabaniss
3 years 7 months ago
It is a continuing source of disappointment to see the extent of the bishops involvement in this issue. Not their involvement in highlighting the plight of the people affected by the situation, or raising the awareness of the country to the problems with our current immigration system, but of their support for specific solutions. The intemperate remarks of Cardinal Dolan in labeling the comments of those who disagree with his political preferences as "xenophobic rantings" is not helpful either. Whether they realize it or not, when a bishop comes out in support of a specific proposal it is (mis)understood by many to be a statement of church doctrine rather than the personal opinion of a particular individual. His opinion may have merit but only if his arguments sustain it; it has no particular merit simply from the fact that a bishop expresses it. Beyond this, such comments actually serve to coarsen the debate as many of the exchanges devolve into nothing more than insults about one's lack of faith, as if to disagree with a bishop's political choice is in fact to disagree with church dogma. There are a goodly number of disingenuous comments in this debate, Jeb Bush's statement that illegal entry "is not a felony" being a case in point. The truth is that the first instance of illegal entry is a misdemeanor but a second one is indeed a felony, and in both cases they are criminal offenses. The author himself made several points with which I disagree, but what offends me most is simply the tone of the article and the implication that those who oppose the political proposals favored by certain US bishops are "indifferent in the face of such suffering."
RICHARD DUBIEL
3 years 7 months ago
Big Business, Big Education, and Big Religion do not care about the long term consequences of squandering our natural resources, either on a national or global level. If the immigration issue were only as simple as 11 million people. It isn't. As long as there is chain immigration that 11 million will explode to five times that number. By 2050 we will have a half billion people in the US. We are only beginning to see the consequences of shortages: water. The Catholic Church refuses to see beyond helping "the stranger." With the level of immigration being what it is, our strangers constitute an invading army. For Big Business it is cheap labor and more business, for the Church it is a way to fill emptying pews. Since the beginning of this century the US has had to accommodate an extra 26 million people, resulting in 13, 586 square miles of open space now classified as Urbanized Areas. (US Bureau of Census). This is less land upon which we can grow food. Anyone who looks at the consequences of population can continue on with the problems we are facing. Let us help countries fix their problems in their countries. The US is filled, thank you.
Sara Damewood
3 years 7 months ago
Thank you, America editors! This is truly a bipartisan issue, both moral and economic. We are counting on our Catholic US representatives to take leadership in forging a solution for these millions of immigrant children and their families and for the economic good of America.
KEVIN HURLEY
3 years 7 months ago
FOREIGNERS BREAKING THE AMERICAN LAW IS "AN ACT OF LOVE"? Just shut-up. You sound as intelligent as W. (God forbid) To help the intellectually challenged people, (Bushes) it is not "compassionate conservatism" or "loving liberalism" to allow foreigners to live off Americans' taxes when 1) Americans don't like paying taxes, and 2) Americans' taxes can/are intended to help Americans. This isn't "Love" - no matter how you masquerade it. This is wasteful foreign donations designed to boost political Power. Doy.

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