From the beginning of our country, Franciscans have been involved with immigrants in our communities. Many members of our Franciscan communities are made up of the children and grandchildren of immigrants. We learn from our historic Catholic experience, that the immigrant is not always welcome in America and we work hard to remind all people of our history when crafting a fair and honest policy that would take us in to the future.
Many FAN members place a high priority on working for reform of the broken U.S. immigration system and addressed the issue before the Franciscan Action Network was created. Some members work directly with immigrant communities, some have a presence at detention centers, and many advocate for a reasonable, clear and achievable pathway to citizenship which prioritizes family unity. In collaboration with other organizations, especially with the Justice for Immigrants Campaign (JFI) of the USCCB and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC), FAN advocates in Washington, DC and in many states for immigration reform. Recently our advocacy work extends to working on behalf of refugees, both from Sryia & Iraq, and Central America.
Foundation in Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching and Franciscan Tradition and Values
Welcoming the stranger is a mandate in the Hebrew scriptures. The Jewish people themselves were refugees in a foreign land and the Holy Family were refugees for a time in Egypt. Jesus continually reached out in love beyond the confines of the Jewish community, telling the story of the “Good Samaritan” in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” He engaged in theological conversation with the Samaritan woman and responded to the urgent plea of the Syro-Phoenician woman. In the 25th chapter of Matthew, the Last Judgment, Jesus teaches that we must welcome the stranger: “For I was . . . a stranger and you welcomed me.” Francis of Assisi went beyond his borders to visit a stranger, the Sultan Malek al-Kamil who influenced Francis as Francis impressed the Sultan.
The Catholic position toward migrants, immigrants and refugees is grounded in Catholic Social Teaching which is based on the Gospel, papal encyclicals, and pastoral letters of bishops, including U.S. bishops.
For example, in the first social encyclical, Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII established that people have a right to work and support their families. Pope Pius XII reaffirms that families have a right to a life with dignity and thus the right to migrate (On the Spiritual Care of the Migrant.) Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI all followed in this tradition, affirming migrants, refugees and immigrants. The U.S. Bishops issued a pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, in 2003 in which they applied teachings of the Popes to the reality of the United States, and named five principles that guide Catholic Church response to public policy proposals dealing with immigration:
- Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
- Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
- Sovereign nations have a right to control their borders. (But this is not an absolute right. Nations also have an obligation to the common good, and the U.S. should establish an immigration system that provides legal avenues for people to enter the country in a safe, orderly and dignified manner to obtain jobs and reunite with their families.)
- Refugees and Asylum Seekers should be afforded protection.
- The human rights and the human dignity of undocumented migrants should be respected.
Immigrants, Refugees and Asylees
An immigrant, according to U.S. law, is a foreign-born individual who has been admitted to reside permanently in the U.S. as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). Because there is a very limited number of visas available to the number of people wanting to come to the U.S. to work or be reunited with family members, thousands of people have entered without documentation. Today there are an estimated 11 million undocumented people who crossed borders illegally or overstayed visas, living and working “in the shadows” in this country.
A refugee is a person outside of the U.S. who seeks protection on the grounds that he or she fears persecution in his or her homeland. To obtain refugee status, a person must prove that he or she has “well- founded fear of persecution” on the basis of specifically named grounds. After refugees have been in the U.S. for one year, they are eligible to become permanent residents. LPR status does not confer citizenship.
A person, who has already entered the U.S. and fears persecution if sent back to his or her country, may apply for asylum. Once granted asylum the person is called an “asylee.”
An immigration system in need of reform
The fact that there are millions of undocumented people from many different countries living in the United States indicates the immigration system is badly in need of repair. In an effort to stem the tide of immigrants crossing the southern border, the U.S has invested in fences, heavy border security, deportation and a variety of punitive measures. Many undocumented immigrants have suffered from harsh conditions; many have died in the desert; many have been separated from their families; many are poor; all experience fear that they will be caught, detained and deported. While attempts have been made for many years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, to fix the system, efforts have failed. Now, in 2013, reform seems possible. On April 16, a bi-partisan Senate committee released an immigration bill titled Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. A committee of Representatives in the House is also working on immigration legislation. As the process moves forward people of faith and immigrant rights groups will be making their voices heard to assure that the outcome will be authentic, reasonable, humane immigration legislation.
Core Elements for a Just Immigration Proposal: US Catholic Bishops
- A path to earned citizenship that is clear, compassionate and achievable
- Future flow worker program
- Family-based immigration reform
- Restoration of due process protections
- Address root causes of migration
- Inclusion of the DREAM Act and AgJobs
As legislation is debated and amended, Catholics engaged in the Justice For Immigrants campaign will compare proposed bills with these core elements as detailed on the JFI website. Also, the Interfaith Immigration Principles align very closely with the USCCB core elements.
Resources for Information, Education and Advocacy