The U.S. bishops clearly aren’t trying to win any popularity contests.
Their latest legislative push, announced earlier this month, is for comprehensive federal immigration reform. It includes a 1.5 million postcard campaign and two websites, www.justiceforimmigrants.org and the National Migration Week website, www.usccb.org/mrs/nmw/index.shtml.
“It is our view, and that of others, that the American public, including the Catholic and other faith communities, want a humane and comprehensive solution to the problems which beset our immigration system, and they want Congress to address this issue,” said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration.
Well, yes and no. A 2008 Rasmussen poll found 79 percent of likely voters think the government is not doing enough to secure our borders. A CNN poll last October found that 73 percent of Americans think the number of illegal aliens should decrease.
Catholics track similarly. A Zogby poll released in December shows that 64 percent of Catholics think that law enforcement should be used to encourage illegals to go home; just 23 percent support some conditional pathway to citizenship. That may not tell the whole story, though. A 2008 study by a center at the University of Michigan, cited by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops officials, shows 56 percent of Catholics support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
What is clear is that an overwhelming majority of Americans agree that our immigration system is flawed and needs overhauling. The question is how.
Congress to this point has shown little appetite for addressing the problem. That’s why the U.S. bishops are jumping into the fray. Their campaign urges reform that not only helps ensure our country’s legitimate security needs but also respects the fundamental rights of individuals and families to live and work.
While they are not endorsing, at least yet, any specific solutions, their campaign identifies three goals: Keep immigrant families together. Secure the border humanely and intelligently. Help illegals register with the government and begin a process leading to citizenship.
The bishops’ appeal stands squarely on the Gospel and Catholic tradition. “We are one family under God,” as their campaign is sloganed.
Earlier this month after clashes between immigrants and Italians in southern Italy, Pope Benedict XVI made an unusually pointed appeal for recognition of the universal brotherhood of migrants that applies in our country, too.
“I invite everyone to look in the face of the other and discover that there is a soul, a history, a life, a person whom God loves as he loves me,” he said.
“Every migrant is a human being — different because of provenance, culture and tradition — but a person to be respected and having rights, particularly in work, where the temptation to exploit is easy,” the pope said.
Getting that message, and living it, is of enormous consequence. As one Midwest bishop noted two weeks ago during Sunday Mass, “when the Lord Jesus asks us on the Day of Judgment whether we welcomed the stranger in our midst, we can confidently say yes.”
We’re filling out the postcards today (which can also be found at the Justice for Immigrants website). We urge you to do so, too.