Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Bishop Wenski on Immigration

From an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel:

To those who accused Jesus of breaking the laws of his day, he replied:
"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2: 27) This
teaching underscores the point that positive law, even divine positive law, is
meant to benefit, not to enslave mankind. The patriots who broke the law by
tossing tea into Boston Harbor understood this -- as did Rosa Parks, who broke
the law by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man. When laws fail to
advance the common good, they can and should be changed.

Today, as a statewide march for immigration reform leads thousands of
people through the heart of downtown Orlando, let me state: Our immigration laws
need to be changed. They are antiquated and inadequate for the promotion and
regulation of social and economic relations of 21st-century America. On this
point, everyone is seemingly agreed. However, the solutions proposed should not
make the situation worse. Outdated laws, ill adapted to the increasing
interdependence of our world and the globalization of labor, are bad laws.
However, proposed changes must take into account both human dignity and the
national interest; otherwise, bad laws will be replaced by worse ones.

For this reason, the U.S. Bishops and a broad bipartisan coalition ranging
from unions to Chambers of Commerce have supported broad, comprehensive
immigration reform. Our proposed reform, while addressing future needs for labor
by providing for a legal guest-worker program, also offers an "earned" path to
legalization for those 10 million or so workers already in the country, as well
as fixing the unacceptable backlogs for family reunification visas that keep
families separated for intolerable lengths of time.

A narrow, restrictive legislation focusing on solely "enforcement" will
only make matters worse. Indeed, a billion dollars has been spent on border
enforcement over the past 10 years -- and yet illegal immigration has increased
because the labor market has demanded willing and able workers. Illegal
immigration should not be tolerated, for it leads to the abuse and exploitation
of the migrants themselves. Ultimately, businesses that rely on their labor --
and, in doing so, help fuel the growth of the American economy -- would prefer
and benefit from a reliable and legal work force. But, fixing illegal
immigration does not require the "demonization" of the so-called illegals.
America has always been a land of promise and opportunity for those willing to
work hard. We can provide for our national security and secure borders without
making America, a nation of immigrants, less a land of promise or opportunity
for immigrants.

Victor Hugo's 19th-century novel, Les Miserables, tells how pride and
neglect of mercy represented in the bitterly zealous legalism of Inspector
Javert ultimately destroys him.

Today, modern day Javerts, on radio and television talk shows, fan flames
of resentment against supposed law breakers, equating them with terrorists
intent on hurting us. However, these people ask only for the opportunity to
become legal -- to come out of the shadows where they live in fear of a knock on
their door in the dead of night or an immigration raid to their workplace. Like
Jean Valjean, today's migrants look only for the opportunity to redeem
themselves through honest work. This is the point of the massive demonstratives
that have taken place throughout the country.

Today, many take umbrage at the Catholic bishops' advocacy on behalf of
these "illegals" -- but, in doing so, we stand in a proud moral tradition, like
the novel's benevolent Bishop Myriel, who gave his candlesticks to the desperate
Jean Valjean and protected him from arrest by Javert. For this reason, we call
upon the legislative branch of our government to seize the opportunity for a
comprehensive fix to our broken immigration system. We backed the bipartisan
McCain-Kennedy proposal -- and, while the Martinez-Hagel compromise needs work,
it moves our nation in the right direction and should be passed.

A nation that honors law breakers like the patriots of the Boston Tea
Party, a nation that can allow the dignified defiance of Rosa Parks in her act
of lawbreaking to touch its conscience, is a nation that also can make room for
modern-day Jean Valjeans. We can be a nation of laws, without becoming a nation
of Javerts. As Jesus reminded the embittered zealots of his day, laws are
designed for the benefit -- not the harm -- of humankind.