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Those wacky bishops

There’s been a slight burst of discussion this week about why, exactly, those Catholic bishops seem to fall on the “liberal” end of the immigration debate. The consensus is that it’s because the Church is collapsing around them, they’ve given up on native born Americans and the only way to keep it going is to let all the Hispanics in and boost the numbers.
This first starting swirling around in the Corner, the NRO blog. Then John Zmirak picked it up and Rod Dreher continued the thread. Irenaus comments here.
Now, I have my disagreements with the bishops’ stance on immigration, both as a body and many of the individual bishops. I have a huge problem with the way, for example, some bishops seem to imply that thinking with them on the specifics – policy prescriptions –  of immigration law and practice should take the highest priority possible in a Catholic’s life. Cardinal Mahony, for example, has been at the forefront, declaring that he will ignore various laws and attaching deep approbation to enforcement attempts and so on. Which is his right. I suppose he can prioritize anything he wants. But in light of other issues out there on which he could also speak with such defiance, but doesn’t…it rings hollow.
 I simply think that sometimes the relationship between  general principles of Catholic social thought – which are definitely supportive of the rights of the migrant and of the aspirations of migrating individuals and keeping families intact in that world – and specific policy prescriptions collapse in the way that bishops and their policy arms discuss this.  I think they ignore certain realities that greatly concern those on the “other side” of the issue and it is not right to dismiss those concerns as indicative of simple racism or xenophobia or “fear of the stranger.”
But. To say that the bishops are taking the stance they do because they’re trying to boost the numbers is pretty silly.
First of all because – and forgive me for saying this, but it’s true – the influx of Hispanics Catholics into the US is seen as a great blessing, of course, but it is also seen as a huge challenge, if you will, if you insist on looking at things in a brutal cost/benefit analysis. Hispanic Catholics do tend to be poor, and the needs of their parishes don’t exactly push diocesan coffers into the black. The influx of Hispanic Catholics has caused an enormous strain on already overburdened clergy resources.
And everyone is deeply aware that the Church’s ministry to Hispanic Catholics is woefully inadequate.
(Which of course begs the question which bugs me…when is the Anglo-dominated US Church going to be able to see Hispanic Catholics – soon to be about half of the US Catholic population – as something other than a “them” composing a  “minority” to whom “we” must minister?)
Secondly, I want to take on Zmirak’s and Dreher’s contentions that the bishops have given up on trying to form “old” Catholics so, they’ll try their luck with the new ones, and see if that can get things going again.
Well, of course, I’m no fan of the general course of Catholic formation and catechesis in the United States, but in regard to this specific issue, the contention just makes no sense and is incredibly cynical.
Because, really, all you have to look at is some of the bishops who have taken what some, I suppose, would call the most “liberal” stances on immigration policy in the U.S.
Gomez of San Antonio (pdf – pastoral letter)
Slattery of Tulsa (pdf – pastoral letter)
Chaput of Denver (interview)
What a bunch of dissenting, do-nothing, indifferent catechetical slackers.
It’s an amazingly complex issue, and no, I don’t agree with every policy prescription or analysis of the issue that comes from a bishop’s pen.  But I also think that the perspective of pastors who have responsibility  for these immigrants as they come to their parishes and are ministred to in other ways by the Church should be taken seriously. They often see things that the rest of us cannot – or refuse – to see.
In my relatively uniformed opinion, the bulk of the current problem is caused by:
1. An understaffed, totally incompetent creature called the INS – Correction! ICE!
2. The power of business and agribusiness to have its way in terms of the law and enforcement to keep the supply of cheap labor open and freely flowing.
Whenever I have an immigration thread, the most valuable comments, in my mind, come from pastors and others involved in ministry who are out there, on the ground, working with immigrants.  I also find that these threads fill up as fast as the liturgy threads. We’ll see….

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posted February 29, 2008 at 2:54 pm

When it comes to immigration, I am never quite sure what to say. Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth:
1. This is an amazing lack of compassion for people who, more times than not, are coming from desperately poor backgrounds and with limited economic opportunities in their native countries.
2. Anti-immigration proponents almost never talk about increasing quotas for unskilled workers, even though the experience of the past 15 years shows that the American economy can absorb these workers.
3. With so much of the conservative movement dealing with the train wreck of the Bush presidency, I think some “conservative” Catholics find illegal immigrants a safe target for their frustrations. But illegal immigration does not fall into the same moral category as abortion, and the desire to “put the screws” to illegal immigrants does not seem to square with Christ’s call to practice charity.

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posted February 29, 2008 at 3:01 pm

As an immigrant who found myself ground in the cogs of the INS for over 7 years, I agree with your assessment. It’s much more a matter of making it work than to create a new creature.
In addition, I’ve always found suggestions to grant automatic citizenship (amnesty) preposterous. I myself, an affluent engineer who never broke any law, immigration or otherwise, won’t enjoy this. It’s not a matter of envy, but of justice.
IMHO, illegal immigrants should be disqualified from citizenship, at least for a longer period than the normal 5 years, but not from residency. Let’s face it: the politicos wish to grant them citizenship so that they can vote for them. However, residency grants almost all the benefits of citizenship, provided that political representation is not regarded as important.
May St. Peter pray for us.

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posted February 29, 2008 at 3:25 pm

Great Calm and reasoned post. As American and American Catholics I have a feeling we all failed in the last 2 years on this emotional issue. We must bring reason to this debate

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paul zummo

posted February 29, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Earlier this week on my blog I criticized the notion that the Bishops were supporting immigration reform based purely or mainly because of demograhic concerns, and you have shown why it’s such a foolish claim. I may disagree with the Bishops, but I do not doubt that they are motivated by altruistic concerns. But if I may address Thomas:
1) This is true to an extent.
2) First of all, most conservatives are not ant-immigrant, but are opposed to granting amnesty and the like to illegal immigrants. I would also maintain that most critics of immigration reform do in fact often argue that we should make it easier to alllow people to immigrate legally.
3) This is pure nonsense.

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Kevin Jones

posted February 29, 2008 at 5:11 pm

“1. An understaffed, totally incompetent creature called the INS”
Incidentally, it’s called “ICE” now, and is under the Dept. of Homeland Security.
I woke up to this incompetence after ICE raids in Northern Colorado over the past two years.
One took place on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe, a fact which obviously deserved and received attention from the archbishop.
After the raids, kids would be left at school or arrive at home to find their parents gone. As far as I know, the ICE didn’t have a plan to deal with these kids, so their care was forced on local relatives, friends, and, yes, Catholic charities.
One of the lost children was a five-month-old whose mother was deported to Central America. The child was the object of a charity drive run by a local nun and Spanish-language media. They had to raise about $2,000 so the nun could take the poor child back to the rural home village of his Central American mother.
I don’t know if ICE is equipped to deal with the domestic chaos after a raid, but I know the local communities sure aren’t.

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Terrence Berres

posted February 29, 2008 at 5:19 pm

“Cardinal Mahony, for example, has been at the forefront, declaring that he will ignore various laws and attaching deep approbation to enforcement attempts and so on.”
On that score, maybe it would help if instead of calling it “immigration” we called it the Rite of Coming Into America.

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Clare Krishan

posted February 29, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Not intended sarcastically but for the relatively uninformed the INS ceased to exist five years ago in 2003!
See here’s the crux – “love thy neighbor” ought [at minimum] mean the golden rule, do unto others as you would have done unto you. If we are to show concern for families other than our own, let us consider the institutions and services on offer paid for by our taxes !!!
The former purvue of the Department of Justice was moved to the newly-created Department of Homeland Security, then hung, drawn and trisected into firstly:
* the BCIS (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services)
works on permanent residence, naturalization, asylum but existed only for a short time before being renamed USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services)
then tarred and feathered as an amalgam with the U.S. Customs investigators, the Federal Protective Service, and the Federal Air Marshal Service as, secondly
* the ICE>/b> (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
then trussed and pilloried in the stocks at our borders, as thirdly:
* the
CBP (Customs and Border Protection)
the work of Border Patrol and INS Inspectors debased to treating human persons as “things” in same manner as U.S. Customs Inspectors treats traffic in trade goods.
Why do we the “sheep” reserve the right to criticize the ‘speck’ in our pastors’ eyes, while ignoring the ‘beam’ in our own?
We, the citizenry have our own very serious responsibilities for the temporal affairs of civil life as:
ensure that all, even the illegals and their children, recognize that the American way is life, liberty and happiness – saving an illegal from being aborted is an American value (even if afterwards we deprive him of his liberty and happiness by tossing her and her foreign mama to some other corner of Mother Earth, while the putative papa regains his liberty and pursues his happiness with abiding abandon in the Fatherland)
__ taxpayers __
all workers and enterpreneurs who dip into the well of the American economy for their sustenance (even those non-naturalized citizens with passports from other nations, and those corporations, foreign and domestic, who enjoy legal “personhood” denied those living on US soil in utero, as mentioned under ‘residents’ above) and
__ voters __
all those blessed by universal sufferage to elect public servants as their local authorities to manage civic duties “in loco personis” on behalf of their neighbors, the residents and taxpayers who are not thus so privileged.
This is an awesome area of political agency most of us are too slothful to be concerned with, hence the unseemly spectator sport that the presidential elections have become. When the “faithful” begin to show the same degree of concern about who (i) is elected to manage the duty of educating their own children (in the folk wisdom of Jack and the Beanstalk) as concern for who (ii) gets to distribute the spoils (of the Giants’ bean counters after learning the ropes of power) they will indeed be exercising their truely Christian duty of sacrificial love of neighbor.
Sadly too few understand this principle because their pastors insist on treating them like feckless sheep.

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Clare Krishan

posted February 29, 2008 at 6:24 pm

Sarcasm alert: “Jack” serves as a metaphorical pronomen of all peregrinators in time and space and “Beanstalk” the metaphorical peregrination to a transcendent destiny, the “beans” of the eternal treasury, the grain of wheat of John 12:24 that unless it “falls and dies…” ???

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posted February 29, 2008 at 10:12 pm

At this time the U.S. bishops as a body are still having to contend with a significant credibility issue, so perhaps there is the impetus for some to embrace their more radical though short-sighted stance.

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posted March 1, 2008 at 7:29 am

As an engineer and native San Diegan (a city with no majority “race”), I’d like to speak a little to the difficulty of dealing with illegal immigration, at least in border cities. In San Diego, you grow up around many Latinos. You see them working everywhere. Some are illegal and some are not. Parts of families are legal, while other parts are not. I understand and sympathize with people who argue that justice is above all the important bit of dealing with illegal immigration. Certainly, all those illegals got here because they willfully broke United States law, but compassion should be rendered to them, if only because they are human beings. If there were only 50 or 100, then I completely agree that they are completely at fault and need to be deported. If there are millions (which there are), then while the illegals are culpable, I argue that our own inept border security machinery is also at fault. To find all the illegals (which we have clearly failed miserably at) in order to deport them is not possible. So what’s the solution? I think that mercy is probably the better stance compared to resolute clinging to justice. Exactly what that mercy entails is up for grabs. Of course, the other part to the solution is to tighten up border security considerably, so as to stop the flow of illegals into America, especially after said mercy is dispensed. While I do think that the bishops are sometimes more than a little off, especially in California, I agree with them in principle (though not necessarily in implementation) on this item.

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James Kabala

posted March 1, 2008 at 12:28 pm

“Well, of course, I’m no fan of the general course of Catholic formation and catechesis in the United States, but in regard to this specific issue, the contention just makes no sense and is incredibly cynical.”
Is there any reason why, in view of the terrible errors they have made on many other issues, we should not view most modern American bishops (Chaput and a few others being apparent exceptions) and their actions with cynicism?
You’re right. It’s just that in this case, the pressures on the institution from the influx of immigrants are so great, it’s hard to see a negative ulterior motive in this one.

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posted March 2, 2008 at 1:32 am

paul zummo:
You write: “we should make it easier to allow people to immigrate legally.” The USA allows more people to immigrate legally, become permanent residents and citizens than any other country in the world.
How many permanent immigrants (in all categories) came to the United States in 2006, and where are they from?
In 2006, 1,266,264 foreign nationals obtained lawful permanent resident (LPR) status according to the Department of Homeland Security’s Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2006. The total number represents a 12.8 percent increase from 2005 (1,122,373), and a 50.6 percent increase from 2000 (841,002)…
What was the total number of nonimmigrant admissions to the United States in 2006?
Temporary admissions of nonimmigrants to the United States increased by 3.5 times, from 9.5 million in 1985 to 33.7 million (not including certain Mexicans and Canadians) in 2006…
Temporary workers and trainees, including H-1B “specialty occupation” workers, registered nurses, temporary agricultural workers, North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) professional workers, treaty traders, and intracompany transferees, among others, accounted for 1,709,953 arrivals (5.1 percent of total admissions); this figure includes spouses and children of temporary workers.

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posted March 2, 2008 at 5:16 pm

By continuing to refuse to reign in the forces that enable illegal immigration we not only enable the people who take advantage and oppress those people but also enable them to keep wages artificially low and keep the poorest native born Americans poor. What are those forces?
1) Lack of real penalties on those who employ illegals, drive wages down, and in too many cases enable employers to reap ill-gotten profits through exploitation of illegals and denial of fair wages to legals.
2) Native born Americans who refuse to pay a just price for the goods and services that they purchase. Every time we get a good deal on something or some service we should ask if the price means that there was a good deal for the person(s) who made it provided the service. Only if consumers start demanding that the folks at the bottom get paid fairly will we see a change in how the dynamics work. As long as Joe or Jane consumer wants their good price or deal at someone else’s expense nothing is going to change.
3.) Lack of any real system for controlling the entry of illegal immigrants. It is so easy to enter this country illegally.

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posted March 2, 2008 at 11:19 pm

“The consensus is that it’s because the Church is collapsing around them, they’ve given up on native born Americans and the only way to keep it going is to let all the Hispanics in and boost the numbers.”
Is there any evidence of catechesis in the ministries to illegal entrants?

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posted March 3, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Can’t have justice without mercy. Didn’t I read somewhere that the pope said that or something like that?

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James Kabala

posted March 3, 2008 at 4:20 pm

It’s interesting that nearly all writing on immigration and morality focuses on what should be the proper moral response of those living in the home country should be, but rarely does one see a consideration of the moral actions of the immigrants themselves. I would like to see a bishop give some consideration to the following question:
It is generally regarded as a sin to break the law, unless the law is manifestly unjust. Is an illegal immigrant committing a sin? If not, why not? Are the bishops suggesting (despite the pro forma endorsement of border security by Bishop Slattery and Archbishop Chaput) that U.S. immigration laws are manifestly unjust along the same lines as segregation laws or worse, and that every illegal immigrant is a sort of defiant hero along the same lines as Rosa Parks? If not, and they do regard immigrating illegally as a sin, why is this not part of their catechesis towards these illegal immigrants? If a repentant illegal immigrant confessed what he had done in the confessional, what advice would thes bishops give?
Despite their well-meaning intentions, bishops like Slattery and Chaput are actually objectifying the immigrants by denying them free will. To immigrate illegally is a human choice with moral dimensions, not the act of a helpless automaton.

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posted March 3, 2008 at 11:09 pm

James Kabala,
“but rarely does one see a consideration of the moral actions of the immigrants themselves”
I’ve never seen this considered – except in letters to our diocesan newspaper objecting to some pronouncement or opinion column from the Chancery. It’s as though illegal entrants don’t have souls, just stomachs that need filling and backs to break with labor.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses LEGAL migration and, therefore, assumes immigrants will legally enter sovereign nations. It notes, too, that immigrants are obliged to obey the laws of countries that receive them.

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