By Barb Arland-Fye
Conservative author and Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen penned an Opinion piece titled “Immigrants aren’t poison. They’re America’s lifeblood” (Jan. 4, Washington Post). The editorial points out that from the beginning to the present day, immigrants help our country to flourish.
This year’s presidential campaign is heating up the vitriol toward immigrants without documents and lambasting the crisis at the border without offering solutions that advance our country’s needs and interests while also securing the border in a humane manner.
As Thiessen says, “when immigrants come here and jump into what we used to call the ‘great American melting pot,’ they can become as American as any of us.” He references a Gallup poll from July in which a “68% supermajority says immigration is a good thing for the country (up from 52% in 2002).” Thiessen, however, finds fault with our government regarding people entering this country illegally. He claims our government “lets millions of people enter without screening out criminals and those who wish our country harm.”
The actual problem is that we continue to elect members of Congress who prefer power to compromise, and thus have kicked the can of immigration reform down the road for decades. We, as followers of Christ, must insist that Congress work across the aisle to pass fair, humane legislation that would fix our broken immigration system. Punishing migrants desperate to escape poverty, political upheaval and violence in their homelands will not solve their problems or ours!
In a letter to Congress on Dec. 15, the U.S. bishops referred to a Senate amendment to H.R. 815, the “National Security and Border Act, 2024” that would double down on enforcement and impose restrictive measures toward asylum seekers. As the bishops remind us, “Catholic social teaching recognizes a country’s right and responsibility to manage its borders in accordance with the common good.” However, not “at the expense of our nation’s fundamental commitment to humanitarian protection,” the bishops said in their letter.
“… Our immigration system is broken, as underscored by the current humanitarian situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and ongoing challenges faced by interior communities. Legislative solutions have been proposed, but achieving a comprehensive solution has repeatedly eluded Congress. However, as the last several decades have demonstrated, it is both ineffective and unjust to pursue an enforcement-only approach to immigration, while not addressing the inadequacies of our legal immigration system and the root causes that compel people to migrate,” the bishops said. They also acknowledge in their letter the need to address the root causes of migration in countries of origin. We need a “both/and” approach to this issue.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for decades has called for “targeted enforcement measures, combined with actions to modernize and increase capacity at ports of entry, as well as increasing the number of, and access to, lawful immigration pathways,” the bishops’ Dec. 15 letter states. In far too many cases, lawful immigration pathways are simply unworkable.
An observation by the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) underscores that point in its list of Legislative Concerns for 2024. The desperate circumstances of migrants “does not correspond to the inordinate length of time (sometimes over 15 years) required to wait in line for the present system to process a visa request.” The ICC, the public policy voice of Iowa’s bishops, supports “measures that help secure our border but respect human rights and human life. We need a system that is humane for workers and fair to employers” (iowacatholicconference.org).
We need to fix the immigration system and a bill introduced last May by U.S. Rep. Linda Sánchez of California offers to do just that. The “U.S. Citizenship Act” (H.R. 3194), provides for border security while reflecting humanitarian values that work for our economy, she states in an overview of the bill on her website (http://tinyurl.com/3b2ukezf).
The bill addresses the root causes of migration, creates safe and legal channels for people to seek protection so they can apply for legal status in Central America, cracks down on bad actors, modernizes the border and protects border communities. The bill also provides an earned path to citizenship for people who contribute to their communities, including their spouses and children. It “establishes a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented noncitizens by allowing them to apply for temporary legal status.” Equally important, it “Reforms the family-based immigration system by clearing the immigrant visa backlogs.” Any aspects of the bill that seem objectionable to Catholics can be addressed through compromise.
“Yes, we urgently need to secure our border,” Thiessen says in the concluding paragraph of his editorial. Securing our border begins with insisting that Congress fix the broken immigration system … and to do so with urgency!
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor