By Bishop Curtis J. Guillory, SVD
In Leviticus 19:34 we read, “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you, too, were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God.” Over and over, we see the content of this passage and others reflected in the Social Teachings of the Church.
I hope the above Scripture passage helps us to pray and reflect from our faith perspective on the issues of refugees and immigration, which have become so divisive. I want us to put aside, as much as possible, our political and social views, so that, upon reflection, the Scriptures and the Social Teachings of the Church will form our views and consciences. How do we approach this issue, as Catholics and as people of good will, from the perspective of Christ?
So many of our brothers and sisters are living in fear every day. They work in the fields and factories. They attend our churches and work in our homes. Some have worked hard to earn a profession and are contributing to and giving back to our communities. The vast majority came to this country to escape persecution or to make a better life for themselves and their family. I, as well as our pastors, receive more calls from people expressing great fear of being deported and separated from their children who are U.S. citizens.
There is the heartbreaking story of a mother who has packed her suitcase with essentials in case she is arrested and deported. She keeps the suitcase in a visible location in her home. She has told her children that if they come home from school and do not see the suitcase, they will know she has been deported, and they are immediately to go over to a neighboring family where she has made previous arrangements for their care. Imagine the children having to live in that fear and uncertainty!
Let us be clear – every country has a right to secure and protect its borders. As well, everyone will agree that felons and criminals must be deported if they are here illegally. Yes – deport felons, not families; criminals, not children; gang members, not moms and dads who work hard to provide for their families and who contribute to the good of our society. Distinctions must be made between criminals and those who committed a misdemeanor. Congress must pass humane and comprehensive immigration legislation. The passage from Leviticus also calls us to have a sensitivity for the aliens among us.
Our Church in the U.S. is an immigrant Church. Except for Native Americans and the slaves, people come to the U.S. either to escape persecution or to seek a better life, especially if there is a very poor economy and few jobs in their home country. There was a time when Catholics were ostracized and experienced discrimination. The Lord is telling us there should be a kinship.
Very often, out of a crisis comes great good. Let us pray that out of this refugee and immigration crisis we will have a greater appreciation for our law-abiding brothers and sisters who are living in fear. In most cases, it is that kind of fear that drove them from their homeland in the first place. Let us pray that authorities who are carrying out their duties will do so in a humane spirit.
And for each of us during this season of Lent, let us take a fresh look at immigration, not from a social or political perspective but from our faith perspective.