Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bishop of Charleston on Immigration

When I was a stranger you welcomed me... (check out my Good Friday reflections on April 14th)

From his Good Friday Homily:

In Matthew's gospel, chapter 25, we learn that attaining the kingdom of heaven will depend on how well we welcomed the stranger. The stranger was Jesus in our midst. (Matt. 25:35- "I was a stranger and you welcomed me.") is the stranger suffering, lonely, or lost? That is Jesus suffering, lonely, and lost. From Jesus, especially from Jesus on the cross, we receive a summons to welcome the stranger when and as we can, to absorb the stranger into our community, when and as we can.
What length does this stranger go to receive a welcome from us? Economic conditions make the stranger go to extremes that occasionally result in death. Not long ago eleven decomposed bodies were found in a locked railroad car about 60 miles northwest of Omaha, Nebraska, in a town called Denison. The bodies were so badly decomposed it was difficult to determine whether the victims were men, women, or children. Bodies were found huddled together. There was no evidence of water or food inside, and the car was latched firmly on the outside. They couldn't escape a cruel, torturous death.
The railcar had left Matamoras, Mexico in the month of June and had been parked for a long time in Oklahoma before being brought to Denison, where the bodies were discovered. It was unclear whether the people had been smuggled or had hopped on the freight car themselves. It doesn't matter how they got there. We know why. They were looking for work, for a better life, for a livelihood. People in need of work to survive go to such extents just to survive.
People may argue, "they are here illegally from Mexico. Let other people worry about them. Let other people welcome them." but the Christian knows better. It was our lord who suffered and died in that freight car, as he suffered and died on Calvary. And he would want us to treat these people better. He would want us to find a way to address the plight they find themselves in.
He suffered and died to help suffering humanity.
We have many reasons to turn and walk away from this situation. These people are taking other people's jobs we may say. There is not enough work to keep them gainfully employed. Well, maybe but maybe not.
We might argue that we cannot possibly absorb this group of people. They will be on the welfare roles. They will be unproductive citizens. And yet in response to those legitimate concerns, don't they seem by their work habits to have answered those fears we may have about them already?
And what about the need for borders and protective measures against terrorist threats? Many of these people are here illegally. Obviously these concerns need serious attention and cannot be overlooked. But there are ways that are humane and fair that are being proposed in congress that can regulate what must be regulated. Borders between countries cannot be ignored, nor can the laws of a country. But the Judeo-Christian teaching about welcoming the stranger stands as a summons to be headed by all who take their Jewish and Christian faith seriously. This also seems to be a summons from the cross of Christ this Good Friday to us Christians of South Carolina, inviting us to respond to the plight of those who suffer great hardship, like the stranger in our midst.


  1. Thanks for posting this.

  2. fyi..

    Welcome the Stranger: Contemporary Ministry in the Church of Florida edited by Father Robert J. Baker and Jane Quinn, Regional Seminary Press, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, Boynton Beach, Fla., 1983.

  3. Excuse me, but I don't get it. Is someone saying that it is OK to break the law by crossing a border without permission? Is someone saying that lawbreakers should not be punished -- e.g., by being fined and sent back across the border?

    Is someone (bishop or layman) advocating a rejection of the CCC's teaching on this subject, which gives nations the right to pass laws insuring orderly immigration (and thus, by implication, rejecting illegal immigration)?

    There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of people who want all the items in group one, below, would also do all the things in group two, below -- despite ultra-liberal attempts to paint them as hard-hearted xenophobes.

    Group one:
    1. Erect an impenetrable security system along the entire southern border of the U.S..
    2. Find, fine, and deport all illegal aliens currently in the U.S. (including Irish and other non-Latinos).
    3. Abolish all current, and prohibit any future, laws that force bilingualism in the U.S. (e.g., in government offices, schools, signage, etc.) -- replacing these with laws that require the learning of English (and its sole use in public business and education).

    Group two:
    1. Warmly welcome every legal immigrant in person, with a human touch, as a child of God in probably need of a helping hand.
    2. Bend over backwards to help every legal immigrant to find a job, a decent place to live, a bank account, a parish/church, a basic computer, the necessary education (beginning with English lessons), etc..

  4. Does it have to be a black or white answer? This situation is very complex, needless to say. I don't pretend to know the "right" way to
    solve the illegal immigration problem.

  5. I'm sorry, Lynn, but I don't agree with anything you wrote, right down to the last three words ("illegal immigration problem").

    It is an "illegal alien problem," because the lawbreakers are not immigrants. My four grandparents, who entered the U.S. legally, were "immigrants." Those who cross a border illegally are "aliens" who disrespect U.S. citizens and their just and generous immigration laws.

    I do find it to be a "black-and-white" case that is not at all "complex." The devil wants it to seem complex, with shades of gray, because he always approves of people breaking the law. You have to decide whether you stand with God and the law or with the devil and lawlessness.

    God love you.

  6. Thanks, Anonymous. I'll think about what you said. My question (poorly stated) was, "What do we do now about/for the people who are in this country illegally? I was defining "immigrant" as someone who has come here from another country, which was a flaunting of our laws and therefore wrong. Certainly we must live by a rule of law, but is it charitible/possible to return all aliens to their country of origin?

  7. Thank you, Lynn.
    You asked, "Certainly we must live by a rule of law, but is it charitable/possible to return all aliens to their country of origin?"

    If we do not return illegal aliens now, we will not actually be "liv[ing] by a rule of law." We have been allowing people to break it, and that permissiveness invites still more people to break it. We have to end this cycle of lawlessness now, or it will never end, and our nation will be destroyed.

    If an amnesty were to occur, many of the 11-to-20-million illegal aliens would become citizens, and 90% of those would be ultra-liberal Democrats. They would vote for pro-death candidates galore, ruining our entire government (state and federal) and making it forever impossible to ban abortion, euthanasia, cloning, sodomite "marriage," etc..

    You ask if it would be "charitable" to return all illegal aliens? Yes. It would be charitable to the citizens whose lives are being harmed by illegal aliens -- and would be harmed even worse by an amnesty. It would even be charitable to the aliens -- in the sense of "tough love" -- because it would teach them the need to respect the law, something that people in their nations failed to teach them.

    We have to keep in mind that illegal aliens don't have a "right" to be here -- because they are not fleeing persecution and because we have no reason to believe that they are all going to drop dead from starvation/disease upon being returned to their own nations.

    Suppose you and I are U.S. citizens who are a "widget-makers" here in the States. Suppose our company -- and all U.S. companies building widgets -- go out of business. You and I would never DREAM of sneaking into Canada, without permission, to work for a widget-making company up there! We would take some alternate course, a lawful course. We should expect nothing less from all the people of Latin America.

    You ask if it would be "possible" to return all illegal aliens. Since human beings are fallible, we would never succeed in finding and returning "all" of them. (A certain percentage of misguided Americans would hide some of the illegal aliens.)

    But, as long as Americans have the collective will power, we could return the great majority of the illegal aliens. We would also have to create "negative incentives" -- to get illegal aliens to return on their own, without penalty. By this, I mean that they need to be told that, if they are caught and returned forcibly, they would be fined (in the form of cash or the forfeiture of the valuable belongings they have accumulated while here) -- but would not be fined if the return voluntarily.

    God love you.


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