Immigration has become a hot topic politically. Since I am an immigrant myself, what is being said about this issue has particular power for me. My whole family were immigrants. This, I know, is not unique to me. Some of the talk about immigrants has been unenlightened by either historical experience or theological reflection. So I want to look at immigration in both an ordinary sense, but also with a spiritual understanding.
Recently, an idea has been put forth that is not only un-Christian, but also could be detrimental to our country. This is the plan to remake our immigration system to let in only the skilled and the educated.
If we look honestly at our own history, both national and personal, we will see that the greatest accomplishments came from people who came here poor and uneducated, but through opportunities not available in their nation of origin and through a demanding work ethic, have brought forth families, many members of whom were educated here and have given to our country great leaders and contributors that have made this country great. Who knows how many children of these humble people will be the next political, economic or spiritual leaders of the future?
Look at our own families. Many of our ancestors came from starvation in thatched huts of Ireland; humble one-room dwellings of Italy; pogrom infested villages of Poland; and have come to this country and became productive and loyal members of the country that gave them the American Dream.
We want the poor of the earth. We need them! For they have the motivation and drive that will keep firing the engines of our economic growth.
The future of our country is in the children of the humble of heart and means. They have the fire of promise in that they want to work hard since they have seen the hopelessness in their countries and want something better for their children. It has always been the humble of the earth who were the greatest engines of progress, who provided the labor and the sacrifice that have made this nation great. We threaten to destroy this by favoring the educated over the uneducated, and the accomplished over those who were never given a chance to succeed.
This misguided preference for the educated also has a spiritual deficit as well. Jesus always saw the promise and the legitimate need that the poor of the earth have for the good of their children. The poor in spirit are blessed because they are humble and work with God’s will to do what is best for the world and for their children. To deny entry because they have not had the benefits others have had in the world is also to put a great sinful blotch on our collective history as a nation.
It is, of course, apparent that we cannot simply accept everyone who wants to come to America. But the system we put in place must not be so onerous that people are unable to enter in a legal way. The present system is very difficult and unfair. Some individuals have to wait as long as 14 years to enter the country legally. This kind of system gives incentive to more illegal ways of entering, especially when you factor in the desperate economic need of many of the peoples of the earth.
This is why the Bishops of the United States have been calling for comprehensive immigration reform. It is the only way, in the long run, to keep our system both effective and usable, making illegal means a thing of the past.