With the input gathered from listening sessions which included both lay citizens and immigrants, the Catholic Bishops of Nebraska have released a statement on the difficulties and the potential generated by immigration to the state.
The statement, titled “Immigration: A Call to Be Patient, Hospitable and Active for Reform,” discusses the “profound challenges” of the issue and notes the opportunities immigration provides for spiritual enrichment, charity, hospitality, and a “strengthening of faith in God’s divine plan for all humanity.”
The bishops noted that a major workplace enforcement raid in Grand Island, Nebraska, and policy debates on the state and local levels had made immigration a topic of frequent discussion. The state’s percentage rate of immigrant population growth is also ranked among the top ten out of all U.S. states.
The bishops also described the input process they used in compiling the letter, explaining how they had sponsored information and dialogue sessions in eight locations around the state.
Participants received information about Catholic teaching relating to immigration and information about common concepts in media and public policy coverage of immigration.
“The overriding value of these sessions was the opportunity for participants to express and share their views, concerns and hopes regarding immigration in Nebraska and the nation,” the bishops wrote.
“We are grateful to the more than 100 persons who participated in these sessions and also to the 100 or so others who contributed written comments. The sincere and respectful sharing of viewpoints and experiences, as well as openness to the Church’s social teaching, proved to be an effective means for addressing such complex, challenging issues.”
Responses expressed a “broad spectrum” of views, the bishops reported. Some respondents focused on the rule of law and endorsed the deportation of illegal residents. Others said that their foremost concern was that first-generation immigrants in the U.S. should have access to the same rights, benefits and privileges available to citizens.
“We might say that the former invited an enforcement-only, punishment-oriented label, while the latter invited an open-border or amnesty label,” the bishops wrote. “Neither view, in our estimation, is economically, politically, legally or socially realistic. Neither view can be fully sustained in a legitimate policy debate. Neither view is fully consistent with the social teaching of the Church.”
The “substantial majority” of participants in the input process expressed views somewhere between both extremes, acknowledging both the need to respect the rule of law and national security and the need to recognize the extenuating circumstances of immigrants.
“They disclosed their struggles of mind and heart with issues of illegal immigration in light of their Catholic faith. They cited the importance of charity, understanding and patience. They expressed profound concern for the vulnerability of children of unauthorized immigrants.”
According to the bishops, many participants expressed an awareness that current U.S. immigration policies are “unreasonable and ineffective” and show a “serious disconnect” from the “economic and demographic realities that underlie immigration.”
The current “policies tend to exploit immigrant labor, undermine human dignity and damage family relationships,” the bishops said. “The human consequences are profound. The system itself is criticized for inadequate numbers of both work and family-reunification visas, large-scale backlogs in most visa categories, frustrating delays and too much bureaucratic ‘red tape.’”
The failure of immigration reform, the prelates remarked, contributes to “negative attitudes and increasing frustration” on the part of U.S. citizens, which can boil over into “undue anger, dehumanizing rhetoric and uncivil conduct.”
The bishops said the “listening process” ensured that the voices of immigrants were heard, by means of small-group meetings at five different areas where the local parish has a significant immigrant attendance.
“The purpose of this outreach was to gain a better understanding of the human aspects of migration, the lives and experiences of immigrant families,” the bishops wrote, adding that many participants were obviously unauthorized immigrants.
The immigrants named economic survival and family security as the most frequent reasons why they left their homeland.
“For many in these circumstances, the risks associated with circumventing the immigration system are outweighed by desperation and hope.”
Language differences cause problems in obtaining basic necessities, and first-generation immigrants worry about the undue influence of media and other social forces.
“Within their own families they face struggles to reasonably preserve their ethnic, cultural and religious identities,” the bishops explained.
“The immigrants spoke candidly of their intense feelings of uncertainty and angst, the constant fear they have of being discovered and deported, and the particular concern they have as to what would happen to their children in such circumstances,” the bishops related. “Their days are filled with these fears and anxieties as they work jobs of difficult labor; their nights are typically restless. Crisis is common, as pastors consistently attest.”
“In our view, this is duress that should not be burdening the lives of human beings made in the image and likeness of God,” the bishops’ letter concluded. “As believers in the message of Jesus Christ, we Catholics need to realize the positive effect that respect, understanding, charity, patience and hospitality can have for these, our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.”