Recent directives from the Homeland Security Department vastly increase the power of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as the Border Patrol to identify and deport unauthorized immigrants.
These actions are certain to separate family members and cause many immigrants to live in fear. These are two of many reasons why the Catholic Church leadership opposes such drastic efforts to remove persons living in the United States without documentation.
It is worth noting that of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, about 8 million are employed, many own homes and contribute to the communities in which they live.
Two-thirds have lived in our country for more than 10 years.
The current crackdown by the Trump administration appears to be grounded on a number of false claims. One is that a large percentage of undocumented immigrants engage in criminal activity. In fact, FBI crime reports show that immigrants — including those living here without legal authorization — commit far fewer crimes than do American citizens who were born in the U.S.
A second false claim by the White House is that these immigrants are a drain on our nation’s financial resources. Undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes, Social Security and Medicare even though most of them will never be able to collect on these contributions.
A third false claim is that undocumented immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers. In fact, most of the jobs they take are the ones American workers do not want. They are the dishwashers and line cooks in our restaurants, and the hotel workers who clean our rooms every day.
They work in meat processing plants and on large dairy farms, and they do the roofing and other construction jobs at the lower end of the pay scale. Clearly, these are not the jobs that laid-off factory workers or coal miners are looking for.
It is hypocritical for this immigration debate to focus only on the immigrants and to not recognize that there are certain sectors of our economy that need foreign workers — with or without legal papers. It is hypocritical to ignore the fact that some American employers encourage workers to cross the border and provide these employers with cheap labor. It is hypocritical and dishonest for President Trump to pursue his current attack against immigrants when his rationale is based on false claims. Fulfilling a campaign pledge is not a virtue if that pledge was wrong from the start.
Catholic social teachings are clear on how followers of Jesus Christ are to respond to immigrants, and the current response does not measure up. People have the right to seek employment in another country when their homeland is unable to offer them jobs that provide a living wage. More affluent nations have an obligation to assist in this effort, even while such nations exercise their right to control their borders.
This is an issue that deserves active engagement, not silence, in the face of national measures that are so harmful to the dignity and rights of so many people living in our nation, and in our own communities.
Many Catholic bishops have spoken out against our government’s actions against immigrants. Locally, Bishop Kettler has joined other religious leaders in calling for due process and respect for the rights of all immigrants and refugees, whatever their legal status.
Now it is time for the rest of us — parishioners, homilists and parishes — to support our bishops on this issue and to live out our Catholic social teachings with a new urgency. It is time to let our leaders in Washington know that we do not accept their attack on millions of people seeking only to live a dignified life.
If we do nothing, if we remain silent while this crackdown on immigrants goes forward, we will be the ones driving it — because silence is consent.
Bernie Evans is retired from St. John’s University School of Theology/Seminary in Collegeville, where he held the Virgil Michel Ecumenical Chair in Rural Social Ministries.