Archbishop, panel urge support for immigration reform

Categories: Nation/World

Sept. 13, 2013, edition
By Joe Towalski
The Catholic Spirit

Father Joseph Williams remembers taking a tough stance on illegal immigration in 1990 when he was a high school student participating in a classroom discussion on the topic. Those who crossed the border without documentation, he argued at the time, should be deported.

The pastor of St. Stephen in Minneapolis, a mostly Latino parish, now says he was on the wrong side of the debate back then. He had a change of heart when he began ministering as a priest to Latino immigrants.

“I met the Latino people, and I fell in love with them,” Father Williams said. “By the mystery of God’s providence, I was called to serve them and I discovered a very humble, hard-working and lovable people.”

“Nobody wants to leave their homeland,” he said. “If you leave your homeland, it’s because there are desperate social or economic or political situations where you came from.”

Father Williams was part of a panel discussion on faith and federal immigration reform Sept. 4 hosted by Archbishop John Nienstedt at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. Other participants at the event, organized by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, included business leaders and public policy advocates advocating for comprehensive reform of an immigration system widely acknowledged to be broken.

The archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis reiterated the church’s longstanding support for reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, keeps families together, restores immigrants’ due process rights and addresses the root causes of migration.

“The Catholic bishops of Minnesota and around the United States have long been concerned about the nation’s immigration policy,” he said. “It is inconsistent, ineffective and fails to promote the common good.

“Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals and schools, we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system: families are separated, workers are exploited and our fellow human beings perish in the desert,” he said. “Every immigrant is a person, a daughter, a son, a mother, a father. Each of those persons possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected.”

Christians have a responsibility to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for that person’s dignity, Archbishop Nienstedt said. Supporting legislation that helps repair the immigration system is part of that responsibility.

Prophetic voices

“The bishops have not pulled any punches on immigration,” said panelist Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “They have been a prophetic voice in this debate — not just this year, but over the last 10 years.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar highlighted a Senate bill passed in June that contains many of the provisions supported by the bishops, including a path to citizenship for many of the nation’s estimated 11 million immigrants who are here illegally. The House could take up that bill this fall or attempt to pass a series of piecemeal bills dealing with immigration.

Other panelists included Brian Murray, chief financial officer of Ryan Companies, and Robert Strachota, president of Shenehon Company, both of whom addressed the business community’s reliance on immigrant workers and the need for reform to ensure a legal, dependable work force.

“Our industry is one that relies heavily on immigrant workers and laborers that have a great work ethic,” said Murray, who noted that the real estate and construction business is finally improving after the recent economic downturn. “We pay fair wages . . . and we need and want immigrants to come here to help us.”

Archbishop Nienstedt asked attendees to contact their congressional representatives and ask them to pass a comprehensive immigration reform law.

“Like the Good Samaritan, we should see all people, including immigrants and undocumented workers, as children made in the image and likeness of God,” he said. “These are indeed our brothers and sisters.”