.- In the first of a series of town hall meetings on the volatile national immigration debate Monday, Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput urged listeners at Our Lady of Peace parish in Greeley, Colorado to show compassion for immigrants, calling for truly comprehensive reform of the country’s struggling immigration system.
According to a report in the Denver Post, the Archbishop said that "Sometimes, there is more heat than light…It's the job of the church to reduce the heat and increase the light."
He also expressed some skepticism at recent immigration laws passed in Colorado, which are being touted as the toughest in the country.
"I don't know what to say about the new laws,” he said, according to the Rocky Mountain News, “but I think it will make [immigrants] nervous about their status and how they will be treated by their community."
He added that, "Because someone has broken the law does not take away their human dignity. The application and implementation of laws can hurt families. ... To say these people have no chance to regularize their situation goes against the common good.”
Some 400 people were on hand for the first of two such meetings. Officials from the Archdiocese of Denver said that, “As the debate over this issue continues to develop, Colorado’s Catholic leaders continue to emphasize the importance of civil dialogue when discussing comprehensive immigration reform.”
In this light, the Archbishop said, “The church does not favor illegal immigration…But because of the very complex history of immigration in the last few years in the United States, it’s important to understand that the laws need to be changed and be made better.”
Fielding a barrage of questions from the audience, both in English and Spanish, Archbishop Chaput was asked to address the issue of amnesty. He said that because many immigrants have been here for generations, and have children who are Americans, it should never be public policy to separate the two.
"There can be some kind of penalties, but the consequence should not be the disruption of family life," he said. "I think people should be given a chance - and I don't call that amnesty."
While some questioned the Catholic Church’s stance on the issue, Archbishop Chaput explained out that Catholic Social Teaching says that all immigrants deserve dignity and the right to immigrate and earn a just living wage. Nations, on the other hand, also have the right to protect their borders.
“The Church does not favor illegal immigration,” he said, as quoted by the Loveland Reporter-Herald newspaper. “But because of the very complex history of immigration in the last few years in the United States, it’s important to understand that the laws need to be changed and be made better.”
Because so many of the immigrants are coming from Mexico--a predominately Catholic country--the Archbishop said that "in a very special way this is a Catholic issue,” and one that’s rooted in human dignity.
“Every human has dignity that no one else can injure,” he stressed. “Each of us, no matter where we come from, is made in the image of God.”
Sue Zamora, a local resident agreed. The Reporter-Herald quoted her as saying “Just because someone breaks the law doesn’t make them not a person anymore…We need to treat people as people.”
A second town hall meeting is scheduled for Monday in the Denver suburb of Centennial.