This week is National Migration Week, a campaign of the American bishops aimed at comprehensive immigration reform in order to legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants. The campaign has five goals: Provide a path to citizenship for undocumented persons;
preserve family unity as a cornerstone of our national immigration system; provide legal paths for low-skilled immigrant workers to come and work in the United States; restore due process protections to immigration enforcement policies; address the root causes of migration caused by persecution and economic disparity.
Since 1975 the Immigration and Legal Services (ILS) department of Catholic Charities of Dallas, Inc. has provided a broad range of immigration counseling and representation to immigrants and their families. Thousands of immigrants from Mesoamerica, Europe, Africa and Asia have been assisted by Catholic Charities ILS.
Migration is a major biblical theme. Abraham’s family moved to Canaan and then to Egypt. Jacob and his sons made their way to Egypt, and the Israelites made their exodus to the Promised Land. The people of Israel returned to Judah from exile, and, of course, there was Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and their flight into Egypt. All were journeys of hope, either for refuge or a better life.
Which of us does not have ancestors who migrated to Texas, by ship or plane from Africa, Europe, Asia, and Central America or by foot across the Bering land bridge? But our memories are short and we need to be reminded from whence we came as God reminded the Israelites: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:20.
Recently an Hispanic friend was astonished to learn of the manner in which the German and Irish immigrants were treated in the mid 19th century, commenting, “I thought we were the only ones treated that way.” Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that: we all “belong to one family, migrants and the local populations that welcome them, and all have the same right to enjoy the goods of the earth whose destination is universal, as the social doctrine of the Church teaches.”
Immigration is a natural right, as Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles noted recently: “The right to life implies the right to emigrate — to leave our country if we must, to seek a better life for our families and ourselves. In a world divided by war, famine, persecution, and economic dislocations, immigration becomes a crucial guarantee of our right to life.” That right, the archbishop said; “does not depend on the whims of politicians or powerful people. That right does not depend on economic or political forces. Our rights come from God. And no man, no institution, and no set of circumstances can justify denying those rights.”