Monday, December 20, 2010

What We Catholics Can All Agree About Immigration

By Rick Howick
Principal, St. Catherine of Alexandria School, Riverside

A couple of years ago, a Christian family in Iraq asked to place their child in our school under what’s called the I-20 program.  They were desperate.  The situation for Christians was deteriorating and they feared for his long-term safety.  We met telephonically, and agreed to help them get their child to the sanctuary of our school, only to hit a terminal snag in the immigration process.  I often think of that family as news of worsening conditions for Christians filter out of Iraq and I pray they find safety and peace.

At the same time, it widens for me the immigration debate we face in California.  Immigration is a wonderful example of how politics and religion make a messy mixture – but mix it we must. Most of our attention is turned toward economic immigrants, especially those who have not followed the rules.  Hearing of the plight of this Iraqi family, our heart strings are plucked – but seeing the hordes of economic refugees begging for work outside of the Home Depot I pass every day, something else is often triggered.  So many with no work, no money, no food, desperate to integrate into their new home can be overwhelming.  The call for solutions often morphs into strident shrieks from the political right or left, none of which furthers dialog on what would truly help.

It is hard for the Church to declare any specific bill the morally right solution.  Those who support the Dream Act, for example, point out its help for children of undocumented immigrants who were brought here before any age of consent.  Detractors talk of how “loopholes” cover so many others, or its passage encouraging others to risk coming illegally in the future.  The politics of it as a practical solution is genuinely debatable.  The solution, sadly, will likely be found in compromises and half-measures that politicians strike with political expediency, most of which is unsavory to those of us approaching immigration through the lens of faith – what would I do if Jesus were here?

On this, the Church should be clear.  We are called to help those we find in our midst, as Lazarus was at the door of the rich man.  We are called to welcome the immigrant, to feed the hungry, and to help the poor.  The Final Exam question was given to us in advance (take a look again at the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25; the only questions asked can be summarized as, “when I was in need, what did you do to help me?”).  Our call to help those we find in our community is clear.  Our response to those who are sick, homeless, hungry or strangers should bring hope to our neighbors, and reveals clearly to our maker how completely our hearts have been turned toward him. 

Our broken system was made real to me in the call I received informing me that the Iraqi family could not come.  Yet so many others are here right now who face the real dangers of hunger, poverty and homelessness without real help.  The politicians who genuinely care about immigrants may choose from multiple approaches to help in the future, and Christians of good will can and should debate how best to proceed in fixing the long term problem.  However, Jesus is in our midst and stands in front of home depot.  How will we Christians care for his needs?

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