'When Did We See You a Stranger?' Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on Immigration

A Catholic leader says that supporting immigrants' rights is what God wants him to do.

BY: Interview by Laura Sheahen

 

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How do you respond to parents who have many children and feel strapped by taxes--who say they have a moral obligation to their own children first?

I would say they certainly do have an obligation to their own children. All this is based on the premise that these other people aren't paying taxes, and I don't think that's true. Not only are they paying taxes, they're keeping some of our operations alive that otherwise couldn't be kept alive.

Some people would say many illegal aliens work in the underground economy and don't pay taxes-they just receive cash for their services.

That kind of economy is immoral. We've forced that on them, because they can't go to a normal business. They are being immorally treated and not getting the money they need to live their own lives.

Many times, these people are working in an economy that our own people don't want to work in anymore. Someone said as a joke to me, "If we have to have this big wall [between the U.S. and Mexico], it's going to be [immigrants] who are building it."

Are you disturbed by the fact that many advocates of unlimited immigration are businesses looking for cheap labor and refuse to grant immigrants labor rights?

Very much so. When we speak of a reform of our immigration system, what we're looking for is the human rights of these people to do a decent job and get a decent salary for it. Anything else is not part of the program--to bring people in who will be always on the dole because they can't get a decent job. That's not the answer.

Is there a division between what Catholic leaders like you think about immigration, and what Catholic laypeople in the pews think?

I think there is, though not generally so. Many Catholic people in the pews do see the value of these people; [their] ancestors came within the last couple generations. My mother's people wouldn't have been here if we had this kind of legislation a hundred years ago.

There are some folks in the pews who do not agree with this. I certainly respect them. I'd like to have a chance to talk to them. I'd like them to read what the bishops are saying. I think if they read it and weren't just getting the propaganda, they will see it differently.

Has there been a personal cost to you in taking this stance?

There's always a personal cost if you try to espouse a cause that's not as popular as you'd like it to be. You try to do what you believe the Lord wants you to do, and what you believe the Church is teaching. I can't see how anyone could persuade me that this is not what the Lord is teaching. What I think is right, I have to do.

I did my column in the Catholic Standard on this question, because I know there are a number of our folks who weren't happy with my stand [in favor of immigrants' rights]. I have to preach what I think the Lord wants me to preach. If I'm wrong, he'll tell me.

What words of Jesus or events in the life of Jesus influence your stance on immigration?

The Lord says to people, "I was a stranger and you took me in." They say, "When did we see you a stranger?" [He replies,] "When you did it to the least of my brethren, then you took me in."

I think that's the way we should always react to people. It's not always the easy way, but it's what God asks us to do.

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