In a statement announced on Sept. 23, Pope Francis I declared that “all Christians must recognize Jesus Christ in migrants and refugees, and welcome them with respect and solidarity while avoiding suspicion and prejudice.”
On Monday, Archbishop of Miami Rev. Thomas Wenski arrived at Boston College to speak on the Catholic Church’s position on immigration reform at an event hosted by BC’s Church in the 21st Century (C21).
Wenski, who is also the chairman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, began his presentation with the words of Francis. Wenski then said that the world has become increasingly globalized, with economies becoming more interdependent, information and money crossing continents in an instant, and an ever-expanding amount of people traversing borders across the globe.
“Globalization has made us all neighbors, but it has not made us brothers,” Wenski said, citing Pope Benedict XVI, and stating that while God does not show partiality, human beings do.
According to Wenski, the Church recognizes the right of the U.S. to control its borders, but at the same time the church acknowledges that the rights of a human being take precedence over border regulation. Wenski noted how a number of immigrants who travel to the U.S. do so to escape prejudice, poverty, and violence, and he described many of the women and children fleeing countries such as Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador as resembling “people running out of a house that’s on fire.”
“Our response should not be to lock them in the burning house,” he said.
He also noted the importance of the economy’s role in immigration, as the estimated 11 million undocumented workers have distributed themselves across the country in pursuit of jobs.
Wenski stated that illegal immigration should not be tolerated, noting that it may lead to abuse and exploitation of the migrants themselves, and ultimately harms the businesses that rely on their labor. He also said, though, that current U.S. immigration law would benefit from revision.
“Our immigration laws need to be changed,” Wenski said. “They are antiquated and inadequate for the promotion and regulation of social and economic relations of 21st century America.”
On calling for reform, Wenski said that any new legislation should incorporate three major components:
First, any proposal should feature means for undocumented long-term residents to access permanent residency—such a remedy, he argued, would likely stabilize immigrant families and the labor force. Second, Wenski said that legislation should increase the legal avenues for migrants to work while protecting the rights of both foreign-born and U.S. workers. Third, he maintained that a proposal should shorten waiting times under the family unification system. He asserts that family unity visas are currently scarce while waiting periods for families hoping to reunite can be as long as 10 years.
The Church has been struggling for a number of years to enact such reform, Wenski said. In 2001, bishops from both Mexico and the U.S. calling for reform signed a pastoral letter entitled “Strangers No Longer.” This was soon sidelined, however, due in large part to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
Wenski said that ever since, the Church has been pushing Congress to act on immigration reform.
Those who demonize immigrants, Wenski said, often ignore the tragedy and human dislocation caused by the status quo and also ignore the contributions immigrants make toward our nation.
Wenski later said that the U.S. is a nation that typically honors those who defy civil law in pursuit of justice, pointing to historical figures of such defiance like Rosa Parks or the Founding Fathers of the country.
In his closing words, Wenski said, “It all depends on who we’re going to listen to. Do we listen to Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Glenn Beck? Or do we listen to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?”
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor