Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami made a plea for immigration reform at a rally on Saturday, noting that like the hero of “Les Misérables,” migrants wish to “redeem themselves with honest work.”
“Our immigration laws need to be changed,” the archbishop urged at a march held April 6 in downtown Miami.
Some 2,000 people participated in the rally and 20-block walk, which also drew interfaith leaders including a rabbi, an imam, and pastors of Christian denominations.
During his remarks to the crowd, Archbishop Wenski discussed the Victor Hugo’s 19th century novel “Les Misérables.” The book tells the story of Jean Valjean – a man who was imprisoned for having stolen a loaf of bread to feed his starving relatives – and the “bitterly zealous legalism” of Inspector Javert who pursues him.
“Today,” the archbishop said, “modern day Javerts, on radio and T.V. talk shows, fan flames of resentment against supposed law breakers, equating them with terrorists intent on hurting us.”
“However, these people only ask for the opportunity to become legal – to come out of the shadows where they live in fear of a knock on their door in the dead of night or an immigration raid to their work place.”
Similar marches have taken place recently across the country, culminating in a large march on April 10 in Washington, D.C. The rallies come as a group of eight senators – the “gang of eight” – prepares to introduce immigration reform legislation in the coming weeks.
Archbishop Wenski reminded listeners in Miami that Christ taught that laws serve human persons, and not the other way around. Law, he said, “is meant to benefit, not to enslave mankind.”
He pointed to the Boston tea party participants and Rosa Parks as examples of those who have broken human laws.
“When laws fail to advance the common good, they can and should be changed,” he noted.
The archbishop said that America's immigration laws are “antiquated and inadequate for the promotion and regulation of social and economic relations of 21st century America.”
One participant at the Miami rally held a sign proclaiming that “Migration is a human right.”
Archbishop Wenski said that immigration reform take into account “both human dignity and the national interest,” lest the existing bad laws are replaced by “worse ones.”
He voiced support for a future legal guest worker program, an “earned” path to legalization for the 10 million workers already in the country, and reducing the backlogs in processing family reunification visas, which “keep families separated for intolerable lengths of time.”
“Illegal immigration should not be tolerated,” emphasized Archbishop Wenski, but at the same time, “fixing illegal immigration does not require the 'demonization' of the so-called 'illegals.'”
America, he said, should remain a place of opportunity for those willing to work hard.
“We can provide for our national security and secure borders without making America, a nation of immigrants, less a land of promise or opportunity for immigrants.”
“The 'gang of eight' need to move forward – with a comprehensive reform – that includes a path to citizenship to those already in the country and preserves family unification as a bedrock principle of any immigration legislation.”
A nation, he noted “that honors law breakers like the patriots of the Boston Tea Party, a nation that can allow the dignified defiance of Rosa Parks in her act of lawbreaking to touch its conscience, is a nation that also can make room for modern-day Jean Valjeans.”
Archbishop Wenski concluded, saying, “we can be a nation of laws, without becoming a nation of Javerts. As Jesus reminded the embittered zealots of his day, laws are designed for the benefit – not the harm – of humankind.”