Oregon bishop cautions against separating human dignity from immigrants

Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon
Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon


In recent column, Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon spoke on the controversial topic of immigration, saying that although a nation has the “duty” to protect its borders, “remaining in a country illegally” does not eliminate a person's human dignity, nor his or her right to be treated “as a brother or sister.”

On Thursday, Bishop Vasa framed his Catholic Sentinel article with a clarification on humans rights and the law in regard to immigration policies. “Just because something is 'legal,'” he explained, “does not mean that it is morally correct.”

“There are any number of examples from our own history and the histories of other nations where something 'legal' was grossly immoral and needed to be resisted,” the bishop noted. “I am not suggesting that the American 'immigration policy' is immoral but there seem to be some elements of injustice that permeate it and it is this injustice, whether legally sanctioned or not, the Church opposes.”

Though the prelate stressed that a country has the “right and duty to properly police its borders,” once illegal immigrants have crossed them, the Church is charged with the task of providing the same care for them.

If undocumented workers are “here and in distress then the church will provide comfort, solace and perhaps even sanctuary because that is what the church does,” he asserted.

“There may be some of this that is technically 'illegal,'” Bishop Vasa added, “but splitting up a family or sending a family-wage earner back to Mexico where he can no longer provide for his family is not in accord with what we are to do as members of a church.”

“It is not consistent with the dignity of human persons.”

Although there “is a form of injustice done to the American people when our borders are not respected,” he clarified, “there is also a possibility that a grave injustice could be done to an undocumented worker if too harsh a solution is enacted.”

Bishop Vasa underlined that although it is easy to identify all undocumented workers as “criminals,” this fails to distinguish between those who are here “peacefully and productively” versus those who are here for “criminal pursuits.”

“It is certainly not right for anyone to violate or seek to circumvent the immigration laws of this nation but unless we know all of the reasons and factors that led a person to the decision to come to this country or to remain illegally, I suggest that it is very dangerous for us to judge that person as a 'criminal'.”

The Oregon prelate then observed that “thinking about real, identifiable people, concrete human persons and human families, makes it much easier to see that those who cross our borders or remain here illegally are not necessarily evil or wicked men or women but simply people with human aspirations and longings and dignity.”

“Crossing a border illegally does not eliminate that person’s right to be treated as a brother or sister,” he concluded. “Remaining in this country illegally does not eliminate that person’s human dignity.”

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