By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
I still hear that little girl standing alone watching her mother being led away. Her cries were not like little children cry. Her cries were primal, from her depths. Her feeling of abandonment made me feel uneasy. One o’clock in the morning I would be dreaming, hearing that wail, seeing babies ripped from mothers arms. All on the Mexican border. All being done by agents of the government. The outrage I still feel overcomes the powerlessness to change this.
What has become of the United States government? What is going on?
No, I am not writing a “Dump Trump” piece. No, I am not going political. I am focusing on one of the most vulnerable populations in the country: immigrants from Central America and Mexico. We know them. They are our neighbors. We shop with them. We see and hear them. Most of all, we pray with them. They are the fastest growing Catholic population in the country. Seminary and formation programs are requiring candidates to become fluent in Spanish. As a Catholic Christian I stand with them regardless of their status. The sign I see often, “no somos illegals,” (no one is illegal) is a clarion call to pass fair and just immigration reform.
Most of you know my involvement with immigrant rights. I participate in rallies and deliver speeches. As a church we stand for the sanctity of the family. Our churches have always been safe places for families. What is going on is immoral, obscene and flies in the face of what we believe as Americans. It must end, and all families must be reunited.
I am proud of our record as Catholics in advocating for migrants and others fleeing persecution. From Pope Francis down to all the bishops, from documents and statements supporting migration, protecting and giving safe harbor to refugees, our position is crystal clear.
We get awash in propaganda playing games with status and labels. We do have a policy to admit people seeking asylum. What we have seen is deliberate violations by ICE and border patrol preventing people accessing proper points of entry.
This is wrong.
To better focus this as Catholics I quote from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: “The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees and people on the move. Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to ‘welcome the stranger among us’, for this encounter with the immigrant, the migrant, and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ.” (Mt.25)
Let us open this up a little bit. The end of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century Catholic immigrants poured into the country. Laws were lax so they poured in by the thousands. They put their mark on the Church. We had “national parishes.’ These cut through territorial parishes and reached out to members of specific nationality. Religious orders were recruited to better serve their own nationalities. There was a feeling of being an embattled minority in this Protestant country.
Granted, not all was perfect. They, like the rest of the country, were infected by the racism that underlies so much of our national character. In the 19th century Bishop England famously said in response to aggressive outreach to many unchurched African Americans, I paraphrase: “If we take them in we would be persecuted as being both foreign and black.” It took nearly a century to change that, but we did it.
Now we focus on these immigrants who contribute mightily to make America work, but are exploited in so many ways, living in the shadows. The bishops wrote a great pastoral letter “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.” It really develops Matthew 25, zeroing in on human dignity and being made in God’s image. Reading this again makes what I see happening even more abhorrent.
Our bishops and leaders “offer a comprehensive set of recommendations of changing U.S. laws and policies to bring about a more humane and just immigration system in the United States.” It is time to act on these recommendations.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)