I decided to post your reactions to my Monday column about immigration reform today, instead of waiting until Friday. I chose the messages that I thought would most help advance our discussion. Enjoy!
God bless, Father Jonathan
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Father Jonathan, I read with interest your comments on immigration. The key for me in this whole debate is just one word: ILLEGAL. Are we going to start giving other criminals — yes, criminals, because that is really what it is — amnesty? How about if a thief promises not to steal more than $5,000 a year? Should we forgo prosecution? How about if a murderer guarantees that he won't kill more than three people a year? Look the other way? These people are criminals!
To the best of my knowledge the Catholic Church does not pay taxes. You contribute nothing but spiritual guidance to Americans, which is very important. Since I am not Catholic I would never dream of telling you how to elect a Pope or run your church. Therefore, in my opinion, until you pay taxes you don't get an opinion on secular matters. You can have opinions, of course, just keep them to yourself. — Timothy B. (Cincinnati, OH)
RESPONSE: Timothy, you bring up two issues here (criminal amnesty and the role of the Church in social issues), and I think they are both worth addressing, even if this response is a bit longer than usual. Thank you for your candor. First, nobody in their right mind says illegal activity should be promoted or permitted. The rule of law, if it is just, protects the common good. But to imply that all we need is a more courageous president or Congress to enforce existing law is, in my opinion, very unrealistic. I understand you consider it a matter of justice that the government make all illegal immigrants return home immediately — either by deportation or cracking down on businesses — but this will not happen. There are too many political and economic interests in the mix, and those interests aren’t going away anytime soon.
But I think we are getting closer to an acceptable alternative. The amended Kyl-Kennedy legislation will encourage the many millions of illegal workers to register with the government, receive tamper-proof identification cards, and pay back their debt to society. In exchange for permission to work here temporarily, the newly-registered workers will have to pay both fines and back taxes. If they want to stay indefinitely, they will have to return to their countries and get in the back of the immigration line.
But is this amnesty? Any answer to that question will be misunderstood by many so I am going to stick to explaining principles. The important points are 1) people who have crossed the border illegally will be required to turn themselves into authorities and make amends 2) the United States will know who is in the country and 3) with the tamper-proof ID cards employers will no longer have the excuse of not knowing who is truly legal. Will it work perfectly? No. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes.
Regarding the role of the Church in all of this, a few important points should be made. First of all, the right of free speech — of anyone — is independent of being a taxpayer. It is a natural right. Second, I firmly believe religious institutions and leaders should speak out on “secular” issues in as much as they involve human rights and social justice issues. To send religious people into social silence is to reverse a long tradition of religious liberty. Should we also be silent in the face of dictators like Stalin, Hitler, or Castro? How about when we witness genocide? I don’t think so. But you are right; church institutions shouldn’t get involved in specifically partisan politics.
In any case, don’t worry, while I will continue to try to inform the consciences of politicians and voters, nobody is being forced to listen. Your specific mention of the Catholic Church, Timothy, allows me to bring up an important point for Catholics, many of whom disagree with the stand of some bishops and priests. While the Catholic Church takes a non-negotiable stand against abortion and euthanasia, for example, there is plenty of room for diverging opinions and heated debate on immigration policy.
Take it to Mexico, Padre. — David K.
RESPONSE: David … I don’t have much to say in reply, but I knew a lot of readers would get a kick out of your note, and that many would agree with your suggestion!
Thanks for injecting some “Christian Realism” into this debate and into many other issues you have commented on. I really appreciate your approach and style of writing. I’m a Christian and could have been called a member of the “Radical Right” in years past. Aging, life experiences some “face time” with God in prayer has significantly changed my outlook on the social issues of the day. I especially appreciate your example of progress in legislation concerning abortion. For me, it was one of those “ah-ha” moments that crystallized what had been foggy and unresolved in my mind.
You say things the way I would like to say them and you make sense in an arena where screaming and sarcasm frequently reign supreme. May God strengthen you and continue to allow His wisdom to flow from your “electronic pen.” Thanks again and God Bless! — Steve S.
RESPONSE: Thanks, Steve. I don’t pretend to have all the answers on immigration or any other issue. I’m just trying to help people reflect on social and moral principles and what consequences they have for the opinions we hold.
While I admire your convictions in regards to the immigration bill currently trying to make it's way back from the dead in the Senate, I must whole heartily disagree with you. What is wrong with enforcing the laws we currently have on the books? I don't understand why people find that to be so hard to understand. Quite frankly, if everyone in the USA were to just start ignoring some laws while obeying others, why have any laws at all then? So we as American citizens now have the choice on which laws to obey and not obey? This makes absolutely no sense at all. See where your logic breaks down?
Poll after poll has shown that most American citizens want our borders secured first before anything else is done with all the illegal alien invaders already here. — Mike R. (Charlotte, NC)
RESPONSE: I could have posted dozens of other messages like yours, asking why we don’t just enforce the laws we already have and why we don’t secure the border first. In theory, I think your points are partially valid, but as I explained in the first response to Timothy, I don’t think they are realistic. Don’t get mad yet! Listen to this. People risk crossing into this country illegally because the process of coming here legally is so cumbersome. That process needs to be updated. It is going to be much easier and less expensive to secure the border if we can simultaneously limit the number of people who see illegal crossing as their only option.
Instead of focusing exclusively on fences, high-tech controls and increased human patrol of the border, we should be working at the same time to cut off the motivation to cross in this illegal way. This will include, in my opinion, a beefed-up temporary worker program and a more efficient path for permanent visas. The tamper-proof identification cards will also lessen the incentive of looking for illegal employment. Keep in mind, also, that the legislation under consideration does call for more border security … and if it passes, we might even get the money to make it happen.
Thank you for your comments. Although I disagree with much of what you say, your spirit is far better than most of those taking part in the discussion.
You speak of the issues of fairness and justice. What about the same issues for several other groups of people effected by the discussion? […] Are we not rewarding this behavior at a large cost to the American people? I had the fortune to live in Arizona for nearly two years. The Hispanic community there is large, vibrant and largely "Illegal." While the individuals are hard-working and industrious, the place is a significant burden on the economy. This burden impacts the poor American citizens to a greater extent than it does those in the middle and upper class. For example, hospital emergency room care is used disproportionately by poor and lower middle class in America as the care giver of choice. In the short time I was a resident of Arizona, two hospitals closed due to the influx of immigrants, denying this care to all people. Just my two cents. — Frank T.
RESPONSE: Yes, Frank, I know very well what you are saying. It is precisely for this reason, among others, that we need a system in place capable of regulating immigration numbers. Currently, we don’t. Just as people have a right to emigrate (leave their homeland in search of a better life), a sovereign state has a right and responsibility to regulate how many people come into their country. The best hope for our health care system in our border states is to eliminate illegal immigration ... and I think this will only happen with serious reform of our immigration policy, as I have explained.
Father Jonathan, until reading your article on Monday I was a vehement warrior against any type of immigration “reform.” I had been convinced without a shadow of a doubt that compromise on this issue was the attitude of weak-minded liberals and what we needed to do is just be strong and enforce the current law. You can’t imagine how much your article helped. In simple words you gave me perspective. For weeks, I have been listening to my favorite conservative talk radio hosts and my anger against Washington and against this legislation has been stoked beyond belief. But now, strangely enough, I realize how unrealistic I was being …and I have a sense of peace. Of course, I still don’t trust Washington to give us a perfect bill ... or even to enforce what they give us, but I do see I was fooling myself to think that positive change will come by rejecting this opportunity to make some headway. Thank you. We need you, all of us. Keep speaking out even when we get mad at you. — Jim (Indiana)
RESPONSE: Jim, glad I could help. I’ve been kind of tough on some of the conservative radio hosts in relation to their take on this issue, but don’t think I don’t appreciate much of what they say and believe. They have certainly balanced out the media over the last few years.
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