What can we do now on immigration reform?
By Archbishop José H. Gomez
I am disappointed by news that the House of Representatives has decided not to move forward with immigration reform legislation for now.
Are we going to let another year slip by and do nothing to address this deep and longstanding injustice in our society?
Following more than a year of intense national debate, I think everyone now agrees that our immigration system is broken and needs modernizing to reflect the realities of the new global economy. I think we all agree that our laws haven’t been consistently enforced for many years.
Everyone also seems to agree that we need policy reforms that would enable us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow. A policy that secures our borders against illegal crossings and lets us keep track of those who are already living within our borders.
Where people still disagree — and passionately — is about what to do with the 11 million undocumented persons living in our country.
We seem to have reached a political dead-end. The question is: what do we do now?
In my opinion, it would make sense for our leaders in Congress to take interim measures to ease some of the suffering, until they can find the political will to address this issue. And I have two suggestions:
First, let’s establish a moratorium on any further deportations or immigration raids and arrests, except in cases of violent criminals.
Since 2008, our government has deported nearly 2 million people and nearly a half million more are locked up in immigration detention centers.
And as I’ve been repeating, these are not just numbers, these are real people. One in every four persons who is being arrested or deported is being ripped out of their homes — taken away from their children, their wives and husbands, all their relatives.
We need to keep reminding our leaders — and our neighbors — about these basic “human facts.” Most of the 11 million undocumented in our country have been living here for five years or more. Two-thirds have been here for at least a decade.
The vast majority pose no criminal danger to our community. Just the opposite. They are going to church and working alongside us, paying taxes, making our country and our communities stronger.
I keep thinking of the children who came to our Cathedral last month with letters they had written to our Holy Father Pope Francis. I sent those letters to the Pope and they were even mentioned in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
One little girl named Jersey wrote her letter on notebook paper in pencil and included a drawing of a bird flying free in the sky. Her dad had been immigration detention for two years and now he was being deported:
“Dear Pope Francisco, Today is my birthday. My birthday wish is I would like to have my dad to be with me. …It has been so long that he hasn’t been with me on two of my birthdays, last year and today. … Since my father isn’t here my mom and sister have been trying to find a job. … Since you are the closest to God, I beg you to help my family. … Sincerely, Jersey.”
We need to help our leaders understand. Even if they can’t reach a comprehensive reform, we need to stop the suffering of our little ones. The common good is not served by deporting this little girl’s dad — or anyone’s dad. A just and compassionate society must not allow this.
Second, it’s time to help the “dreamers.”
These are the millions of young men and women who were brought to this country illegally or are living in the homes of undocumented parents. It’s cruel, and it serves no purpose, to keep denying these kids any legal status.
They’ve been here their whole lives. It’s time we welcome them as citizens and give them the opportunities they need to help our country grow. A just and compassionate society cannot punish innocent children for the crimes of their parents.
These two proposals are no substitute for true immigration reform — but they would make a big difference in the lives of millions of our neighbors.
Any true reform must provide a generous path to citizenship for our 11 million undocumented brothers and sisters. A just and compassionate society can’t allow an underclass of people to keep growing at the margins of our society, living in constant fear of arrest, without rights or reasons to hope.
So let’s keep praying for our country and for our leaders.
And let us ask Mary, our Blessed Mother, to give us the courage to always do what is right and just.