The moral dimension: Catholic social teaching informs view on immigration

(RNS1-JULY 15) Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and seven other bishops celebrate Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona on April 1 to commemorate the deaths of migrants in the desert and to pray for immigration reform. (RNS)

(RNS1-JULY 15) Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and seven other bishops celebrate Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona on April 1 to commemorate the deaths of migrants in the desert and to pray for immigration reform. (RNS)

By Riley Manning

Daily Journal

The issue of immigration reform is one of many facets, be it political, economic, legislative, or otherwise.

But for the church, the Catholic church especially, the hope of immigration reform presents a moral imperative.

Pastoral minister of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Booneville Sheila Przesmicki brings to bear the seven pillars of Catholic social teaching to illuminate the issue.

“Three of the pillars in particular, ‘the dignity of the human person,’ commitment to the poor and vulnerable,’ and ‘the dignity of work,’ speak to immigration,” she said. “As Catholics, the idea of these people coming and taking our jobs away violates those teachings. It says they don’t have a right to that dignity because they were born on the wrong side of the border, because they didn’t have the luck of the draw.”

Bringing light

Betsy Dwyer works with Glenmary Missioners, a Catholic society of priests and ministers dedicated to small Catholic populations existing in rural areas and small towns. Specifically, Dwyer works with Mississippi and Appalachian areas made up of under 1 percent Catholics. One challenge for these areas, she said, is a lack of access to all sides of the conversation.

“We have a bad habit of talking in arguments instead of attempting to understand,” she said. “A big part of my job is listening and asking questions about people’s experience to get a sense of the big picture.”

That big picture, she said, is complex, and made up of several different pieces. One of those pieces, she said, lies in economics, which immigrants ultimately benefit. Dwyer pointed to Georgia’s immigration enforcement law, HB 87, which, passed in 2011, aimed to remove incentives for illegal immigrants to seek work in the state. As a result, that year $140 million in crops were left unharvested due to labor shortage.

“The peach industry crashed because no one wanted to work those jobs,” she said. “In a similar way, immigrants are integral to the fabric of Northeast Mississippi’s industry as well, the furniture industry for example.”

Przesmicki added that work conditions are harsh. Workers can spend 12 hours each day in the fields, even more during harvest time. In some places, Wisconsin for instance, workers are still subjected to crop dusting.

Another piece lies in the detention system. For one thing, Dwyer said, ‘detention’ means ‘prison,’ and when an illegal immigrant is arrested they are considered a federal prisoner. As federal prisoners, she said, prisons are reimbursed more to house them, and in some places, immigrants can be held for months.

“Prisoners are cash cows in service of budget cuts,” she said. “Going back to Georgia, a prison receives $80 reimbursement per night for a state prisoner, and $120 per night for a federal prisoner.”

Then there’s the piece of how illegal immigrants make it into the U.S. in the first place, by way of the ‘coyote system.’

Hopeful immigrants pay thousands of dollars to ‘coyotes,’ who smuggle them across the border. From there, the immigrants are completely at the mercy of the coyote. A good coyote, Dwyer said, will guide the immigrant safely to the other side, as per the arrangement. But bad coyotes are common, and abandon their passenger in the desert, taking the money for themselves. The border, she said, is strewn with bodies.

Once in the U.S., immigrants are often stuck, separated from their families, and unable to return home in the event of a family death.

“These are people coming out of desperation,” she said. “The question our country has to examine is in what ways have our economic policies enabled things like the coyote system, and how have they left these immigrants without much choice?”

Safehaven

Przesmicki said for these immigrants, the church can play a crucial role in their well-being as a refuge, a place to share faith and language.

“It’s a place where they can feel at home, where they can find strength in their shared faith,” she said. “They tend to travel to places where people or relatives they’re familiar with already are. These relationships and the church are pretty much the only support system they have.”

Though the Northeast Mississippi area struggles financially with such a small Catholic population, the church does assist in terms of food, references, finding work, connections within the community, and access to an immigration attorney. Most immigrants Przesmicki works with come from Mexico or Guatemala.

In July, Pope Francis himself called on the migration of unaccompanied children a “humanitarian emergency,” and urged the U.S. to provide more protection for them. In April, a delegation of American bishops held a Mass along the Mexican border, serving communion through the fence’s bars.

“Ideally, immigration reform seeks to be inclusive. As world citizens, we believe everyone should have a right to health, to safety on the street,” she said. “At the very least we are responsible for becoming more aware of what puts people in the situations that cause them to make such desperate decisions.”

riley.manning@journalinc.com

–––––

IMMIGRATION STATISTICS

• Last month, the Department of Homeland Security released data showing that about 5,500 unaccompanied children were arrested, barely half the amount of May and June.

• Arrests of parents with children also dropped by more than half to just over 7,400.

• A total of 24,500 adults and juveniles were apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley, down from the 38,000 in June, but far beyond July of 2013’s 15,000.

• From October 2013 to last month, 63,000 unaccompanied children entered the U.S., twice as many as the identical period from the previous year.

  • FrereJocques

    A country that does not defend its borders soon ceases to be a country.

    Catholics, and religions in general, may have their own agenda when it comes to immigration, but their agenda conflicts with what’s best for the nation and the people who are already there. The US is the most generous nation on Earth when it comes to foreign aid. We are already doing our part.

    Catholics would do much better in reducing world poverty, hunger, and the need to immigrate to other countries if they would do an about-face on their doctrines of not using birth control, having as many babies as possible (whether they can support them or not) and not encouraging family planning. The biblical mandate to “go forth and multiply” has long been fulfilled, in fact has been over-fulfilled, and does not apply in this day and time.

  • 1941641

    Frere, are you feeling OK? Your comment leads me to believe you may have recently joined up with the pseudo-christian, anti-immigrant, tax-exempt “Dark Side” of Tupelo. MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN ARE ALL INCLUDED in their campaigns of hate. (They really don’t care much for young blacks either according to some of there rant that’s been spewed from their beloved mouthpiece, Brian Fischer, just very recently concerning an incident in Missouri and the death of an unarmed 18 year old black man.) By the way, it’s not just homosexuals they despise, it’s also at least 60% of the other population in the world to boot! Yet, they try to pretend to be loving, merciful Christians. But, all they have succeeded in so far is “making a mockery of Christianity.”

    • FrereJocques

      Rest assured, I have not joined up with the Dark Side of Tupelo. While I am unabashedly liberal (I actually prefer the label “Progressive”), I am conservative on a few issues. Immigration is one of those. We simply cannot afford to become the Welfare State for the rest of the world.

      And the record is clear. You grant an exception and take in one particular group of refugees, and all the rest of them will come pounding on your door, also looking for special dispensation to be allowed in.

      The vast problem of millions of starving and homeless people is due to a number of causes, but not the least of them is people having children when they have no way of sustaining them. Add to this the religious terrorists, and the political strife (which is also promoted by organized religion), and you have what we have today. But taking in all the worlds’ refugees from political and religious persecution is neither the answer nor a possibility.

      • 1941641

        Frere, does the Good Book not say: “multiply your people and fill the Earth, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked”? Did it not mean Universally? Over the Whole Earth Without Question!? And begin Now ! Just asking?

        • FrereJocques

          “multiply your people and fill the Earth, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked”.

          Yes, the Good Book DOES say that. But this statement was made when the Earth was nowhere near as populated as it is today. Now I can agree that the last three directives are still relevant. But we have “multiplied” to the point that we are depleting our natural resources faster than they can regenerate, and many of those resources do not regenerate at all–once they are gone, they are gone.

          Religious fundamentalists take every statement that God ever made, and treat it like it is for eternity. I believe that there is Past Truth, and Present Truth, and Eternal truth. An example of Eternal Truth would be the Ten Commandments. An example of Past Truth would be the Mosaic laws and rituals that God commanded the Israelites to observe under the Old Covenant. I classify the directive to “multiply and fill the Earth” as Past Truth. Present Truth would include the rest of the directive.

          As far as the rest of the directives are concerned, we need to take a page from the Environmentalists’ playbook. They have a maxim: Think Globally, Act Locally. The U.S. is the most generous nation on Earth when it comes to feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless around the world. But when we have a catastrophe here at home, who comes to OUR aid? When tornadoes took out whole cities in Oklahoma a few years ago, I didn’t hear about any relief supplies or money from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Egypt, Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda, Mexico, or any of the myriad of other places we have provided aid to over the decades. Instead, we relied on our own resources and emergency aid from our own Government, and did the best we could. We are thinking Globally when we (our Government and other Non-Government entities) provide aid to others around the world, and in that sense I believe we are following God’s directive. We are thinking Locally when we directly aid our fellow countrymen in recovering from the disasters that occur here at home. In BOTH cases, we are following God’s directive.

          IMHO.

          • 1941641

            Frere, I have noticed that throughout time Christian Fundy Tea Pots tend to rail against government spending, but they all run to jump on the tax-exempt Luxury Liner and ride it relentlessly for every dollar they can squeeze from the old ship. You could say they are some of the worst “Takers” of our time resulting in them being also classified as ‘Hypocrites’ in my opinion.

            Would it not be interesting to know just how much money filters into the pockets of Tupelo’s “Dark Side” from being classified tax-exempt (“takers”) doing business right here in our own community? A lot of people are interested in this subject matter: Hate-mongering equal a tax-exempt status!

          • FrereJocques

            You could probably never get the real, accurate numbers of the money involved. Seems like I have read in the past that the Dark Side allows people to see its yearly financial statements. These would be necessary to prove that they really do qualify–according to law–to be a tax-exempt entity. But there are ways around a lot of exposure. I’ve worked for a couple of non-profit organizations myself. At tax time, there is a lot of, shall we say, “creative bookkeeping” to keep things out of sight that they don’t want seen. You won’t find it in what the organizations release publicly; only an audit of their books by a trained professional will.

            Now, I want to make very clear, I am NOT accusing the AFA, or anyone else for that matter, of violating the law or other criminal acts. They probably go to great pains to be sure they are legal. But, as you say, there’s a difference (sometimes a BIG difference) between what is legal and what is ethical and morally right.

          • 1941641

            How on earth can a designated, active, American Hate Organization be eligible for a tax-exempt status? That is my main question. Seems to me that it should not be allowed to exist in our ‘of the people for the people’ arrangement. Seems to me it would require a certificate signed by God Himself to qualify for such a ridiculous, unconstitutional law! It’s the principle of the whole thing. Are all religions in America allowed to forego paying their taxes in support of their own religious dogma? Shouldn’t Atheist be allowed the deduction for their activities? Nones be allowed theirs? Christians call the Atheist Religion Atheism. I hope they are enjoying their deductions along with all the others! Muslims that’s another question. I’ve never heard any info on the ‘other’ religions in America. Are GLBT organizations tax exempt? I hope so. They really deserve it more so than do the Anti-GLBT Christian Human Rights Violators!

  • L.M.

    **That big picture, she said, is complex, and made up of several different pieces. One of those pieces, she said, lies in economics, which immigrants ultimately benefit. Dwyer pointed to Georgia’s immigration enforcement law, HB 87, which, passed in 2011, aimed to remove incentives for illegal immigrants to seek work in the state. As a result, that year $140 million in crops were left unharvested due to labor shortage.

    “The peach industry crashed because no one wanted to work those jobs,” she said. “In a similar way, immigrants are integral to the fabric of Northeast Mississippi’s industry as well, the furniture industry for example.”**~~Djournal.

    So the peach industry crash because no one wanted to work those jobs? Can you explain why no one wanted to work those jobs?

    Americans cannot work those jobs because they simply do not pay a livable wage.
    Are immigrants subject to all the tax mandates such as income taxes, social security, medicare, and all of the myriad of insurances mandated to americans by law?

    I have compassion on the immigrants because they are pawns in the big economic war the people make among themselves, all in the name of profit.

    The question I haven’t seen answered yet is: Do all the millions of immigrants who cross over the border “illegally” actually have a better life here than in their native country?

    Once they become “legal” they will be subject to all laws and mandates that the American people are subject to. Until then, they are running and hiding. They do not pay taxes with the exception for sales taxes. They do not buy insurance of any sort, but they do receive medical care free of charge.
    If they are not citizens, then they are not subject to monetary laws.

    ….and since NAFTA was signed into law by Bill Clinton when he first took over the presidency, we might as well consider them LEGAL.

    It is a shame Americans do not know what the Mexicans know concerning the current laws of their own country. If Americans were paying attention to what their Senators and Representative pass in Congress, they would have knowledge as to why millions are pouring across the border and why Washington allows it.

    • TWBDB

      I’m sure this doesn’t apply to everyone, but ever since the government started cracking down on employers, migrant workers find ways to get a social security number – they then pay into the social security and medicare system with ultimately no way, yet, of claiming benefits. Others, actually do pay federal and state taxes but are certainly reluctant to file a return if they are not in the country ‘legally’.

      Life in the USA, as horrible and restricting as many would have you believe, is actually pretty darn good by comparison.

      I’ve often wondered how we’d tend and harvest the vast amount of fruits and vegetables grown in this nation if it weren’t for migrant workers. Would the costs of these items go through the roof?

      • L.M.

        If fruits and vegetables costs skyrocket, I’m afraid that much of their profit will be lost due to rot and spoilage at the grocery store.

        I had an acquaintance in California whose daughter married a hispanic man who was brought here as a child. His parents had since passed away and he lives in limbo. He is not a citizen, nor does he have friends/family in Mexico. She said he is constantly having to pay legal and impound fees.
        He is one of those who has a fake social security number in order to have a job. And yes, he does not file returns, of which he is eligible to receive a refund, because he does not want to “chance it”.

        I don’t know what the answer is for this as I can see both sides.

        However, it is a mistake for Americans to think that all hispanics coming across the border are welfare recipients, criminals and lazy.

        All of whom I have seen are hard working, moral, family loving people.

        • TWBDB

          me too

  • 1941641

    Immigration a subject often associated with Exenophobia a mental attitude displaying intense dislike of people from foreign countries found primarily among political conservatives/conservatism!