I’ve spoken to a few people recently who have been wondering what they, as Catholics, should have to say about immigration in light of President-elect Donald Trump’s potentially hard-line stance on border security and deportation. Here are a few places to begin.
First, you should read this book: The Devil’s Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea
This is an older book (2005) but it still deserves our attention, especially as immigration debates come to a head under our new president-elect’s administration. Urrea tells the story of 26 men who attempted to cross the border in 2001 through a brutal area of the Arizona desert known as the Devil’s Highway. Only 12 survived, the rest perishing miserably from severe dehydration and heat exposure in the relentless 110+ degree desert days. Urrea weaves the story of the so-called “Yuma 14” into a sensitive and balanced discussion of the failure of border policies in both the US and Mexico, policies that both encourage illegal immigration and also contribute to the dangerous conditions that lead to so many deaths of those who attempt to cross.
Urrea’s story is, above all, a human story. He humanizes the immigrants, the coyotes, the border patrol. He even mentions his biggest surprise in doing the research for the book: his newfound respect and admiration for the border patrol.
As a human story, Urrea keeps us from adopting any simple stance. Border policy is complex. We need strong borders, not just to protect us from poor Mexicans looking for US jobs, but also because coyotes regularly run Al Quaeda operatives either to the US or through the US to Canada. At the same time, the harsher the border, the greater lengths people will go to get across, the more they will pay coyotes, the more power dangerous coyotes have, the more deaths the border will cause. There is no easy fix, and what seems like an easy fix can indeed make the problem worse. He quotes consul Flores Vizcarra:
What kills the prop is the politics of stupidity that rules both sides of the border,
We need a public debate that can account for the complexity of the border. This book gives us a place to begin. From such humane treatments of the border we can then move to take action within the framework of our Catholic faith. To this end, the US Bishops Justice for Immigrants campaign has created a resource in response to the many questions staff members have been receiving post-election about how to support immigrants and refugees. This document includes practical advice for immigrants (apply for citizenship, memorize phone numbers of important people, report hate crimes, continue with daily life), but it also includes suggestions for how the faithful can support immigrants and refugees during an uncertain political period. This includes the following suggestions:
Host a solidarity event or interfaith prayer service: Our communities must come together to welcome immigrants and refugees. Solidarity events are a great way to make immigrants and refugees in our communities feel supported. They are also an opportunity to further educate parishioners and community members on our government’s immigration- and refugee-related policies and on the hardships faced by many of these migrants. See Archbishop Gomez’s recent Homily Prayer Service for Hope and Unity.
Engage in dialogue about Catholic Social Teaching on migration: Start a dialogue with your community around Catholic Social Teaching on migration. Share a copy of and discuss the pastoral letter Strangers No Longer Together on the Journey of Hope.
Pray together: Now, more than ever, immigrants and refugees in the United States and abroad need our prayers. You can dedicate a mass to immigrants in your community, lead a homily on migration, and distribute prayer cards. See our materials here.
Host a multicultural potluck night: Promote cultural awareness and foster a community of welcome by hosting a multicultural potluck event.
Participate in Ethnic Celebrations of the Church: Learn about the Church’s immigrant history by attending mass on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, the Feast Day of St. Frances Cabrini on November 13th, and the Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha on July 14th.
Educate members of your community and ask them to take action on the Justice for Immigrants (JFI) website: Share a link to the JFI website with members of your community so they can learn more about JFI’s work to support refugees and immigrants. Ask them to keep an eye out for action alerts posted on the JFI website – these are a quick and easy way for parishioners to make their voices heard!
Engage in National Migration Week: Urge your community and parish to review our National Migration Week toolkit here and learn about ways they can take action.
Above all, we need to remember that immigration and migration are issues that pertain to the bedrock of Catholic Social Teaching: Life and Dignity. As Catholics, we need to be equipped to bring this crucial principle to bear on the public debates that will unfold over the next four years.