Archbishop of Miami Speaks on Catholic Vision of Immigration Reform

He began with Pope Francis’ message that we must learn to see Jesus in immigrants, as Jesuswas “the migrant of migrants,” moving from Heaven to earth.  Wenski emphasized the need to not blame diversity or immigrants for the problems caused by immigration, but rather human failings. He said that although we live in a globalized world, Pope Francis’ belief that “globalization makes us neighbors but not brothers” is very important consider when deciding how to treat our Christian brothers and sisters. Bridging the gap between religion and modern day politics, he pointed out that when Joseph had to move his family to Egypt to escape Herod’s mass killing of infants, he “didn’t worry about getting a visa”.


Wenski said that although the Church recognizes the right of a country to declare and protect its borders, it is not right to deny access to people trying to escape the instability and violence prevalent in their own countries. He compared this act to locking people inside of a burning building they are trying to escape. Also important to Wenski is allowing families to reunite, which can take as long as ten years. He explained that strict border enforcement actually causes more illegal immigration as instead of one of the family members leaving the U.S. and knowing they will be able to return, their whole family will come into the U.S. in order to be reunited.


According to Wenski, any new proposal for immigration reform should include three main components: first, it should feature ways for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship. This would stabilize families as well as the labor force, and would be a fair way to honor the contribution they make to the country. Second, a proposal must provide a legal way for immigrants to work, as this will give them the protection and benefits they deserve. Rather than ‘stealing’ jobs from Americans, immigrant workers actually help to keep agricultural jobs in the U.S.. Rather than create a new “under class” of people which Wenski compares to that which the Jim Crow laws created, he says that we need to stop exploiting these workers who are often under paid and inhumanely treat. Rather than seeing immigrants as wrong doers, the law should see them as people vulnerable to victimization. Lastly, a proposal must include a way to shorten the waiting time for family unification, as the current system easily separates spouses and children from their parents for long periods of time.


On the nature of laws, Wenski said that Americans have a tradition of honoring law breakers, namely Rosa Parks and civil rights leaders’ acts of civil disobedience, as well as events dating as far back as the Boston Tea Party. Similarly, when asked to comment on the fact that many immigrants are not interested in becoming citizens but simply want to come to the U.S. for a short time to make money, Wenski pointed out that America is supposed to be a country that rewards risk takers; he modified his previous portrayal of immigrants of victims to say that some are in fact, quite entrepreneurial and independent as they cannot rely on benefits. However, they can easily be exploited as workers when they are here, so in essence, “they don’t come as victims but they can be victimized”.


Recently, Archbishop Wenski spoke to Representative John Boehner after a Mass was celebrated on the border, with communion passed through the fence. The mass had an effect on Boehner, which is one example of how the Church can be an active force in immigration reform.  However, despite the urgency of the issue, multiple immigration reform bills in Washington have not passed because of partisan politics. Wenski concluded by provocatively asking to whom Americans would listen; “Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or Glenn Beck? Or do we listen to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John?”

 

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