"The teaching on immigration reform is really a continuation of what we believe as people who are pro-life," Omar Gutiérrez, manager of the missions and justice office of the Archdiocese of Omaha, said to CNA Jan. 10.
"We need to be better as a Church about to make the connection between the teaching on immigration and pro-life teaching."
The week of Jan. 5-11 marked the U.S. bishops' National Migration Week, in which the prelates focus on promoting the Church's teaching on immigration and its goals for immigration in the United States.
The bishops aim to help "provide a path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country, preserve family unity as a cornerstone of our national immigration system, preserve family unity as a cornerstone of our national immigration system, restore due process protections to immigration enforcement policies," and “address the root causes of migration caused by persecution and economic disparity,” they announced.
Johnny Young, executive director of the U.S. bishops' migration and refugee services office, told CNA in a Jan. 9 statement that the U.S. bishops are " fully engaged" with a variety of initiatives to help pass "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" and help immigrants pastorally, pointing to a "mail and post card campaign, marches, rallies, vigils in churches," as well as "pilgrimages, ads in various publications, and innumerable personal interventions with Congressional officials at all levels."
Young said that the bishops "remain fully optimistic" that immigration reform will pass in 2014, despite a lack of movement from the House of Representatives in 2013. In recent months, he added, members "from both sides of the House and Senate" have made comments stating that comprehensive immigration reform "can and must be done," saying that he expected differences between the two parties and the houses of Congress could be reconciled.
The bishops are also focused on ministering to Catholics and fully explaining Church teaching on immigration and its connection to other parts of Church teaching, he added.
“Many Catholics need to understand that this issue of immigration is about families staying together and being able to survive and take care of themselves.”
"It’s about family. It is also about our duty as Catholics … to welcome the stranger. This is at the foundation of our faith that is grounded in both the Old and New Testaments."
This focus on family has been highlighted by bishops in speeches and columns across the country during National Migration Week. Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, who himself is an immigrant to the United States, called Catholics to "think about these people – what they go through, what they’ve suffered, just to try to give a better life to their children."
"It’s about all the children and families caught up in our broken system," the archbishop emphasized, charging that the current system breaks up families in "the name of enforcing our laws."
One "out of every four people we deport is being taken away from an intact family," Archbishop Gomez stated in his Jan. 10 speech at the Los Angeles Rotary Club, emphasizing that these people are "souls not statistics."
"We’re talking about fathers who without warning, won’t be coming home for dinner tonight. Parents who may not see their families again for a decade. We’re talking about kids suddenly left without a mom or a dad."
"We are a better people than this. So we have to find a better way. And we have to do it now," said Archbishop Gomez. "We can’t wait for another ' election cycle' to go by, while we do nothing."
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia voiced similar concerns in a Jan. 6 article in the archdiocesan newspaper the "Catholic Philly." He noted that while the United States has "very legitimate concerns for public safety and the solvency of our public institutions," achieving "immigration reform would restore justice to our immigration system and strengthen, not undermine, the rule of law."
Archbishop Chaput stated that in regards to immigration reform, "the ultimate question for Congress – and for all Americans – is whether we want to live in a society that accepts the toil of migrants with one hand, and then treats them like outcasts with the other."
Gutiérrez emphasized that going forward, parishes and diocese should try to do better at "articulating where this is coming from, and where the bishops are coming from."
He explained that in the Omaha archdiocese, "there are still a lot of Catholics who would be a lot more comfortable getting their understanding of this issue from secular sources instead of from Church teaching and from the bishops," and so the archdiocese will "try to reach out to parishes and provide Catholic teaching on this issue so that it's better contextualized and people can ask more questions" in the future.
Gutiérrez noted that there are many "lives who are affected by a system which is broken," and "right or wrong, these are the people that are being affected.”
He also added that "migrants have been able to give to the communities" in which they settle in the United States.
"They give to the Church the cultural experience of understanding what it means to grow up within a Catholic culture," Gutiérrez said, adding that in communities with high numbers of immigrants and refugees from other countries, he sees a "sense of service and devotion that isn't always there in other parishes."
For many Catholic immigrants, "service within the parish, service to the Church, service to the community comes naturally out of their experience."
The assistance given to all immigrants is a carrying out Catholic social teaching, promoting families, and building up a culture of life, Catholic groups around the country have said.
Immigration reform, National Migration Week