On the corner of a busy road in a New York City suburb recently, I noticed a sign outside a small Christian church welcoming day laborers -- an apt image for the state of immigration in the United States today.
The day laborers the church is welcoming are, most likely, illegal immigrants. We all know they're here and you may, like the churchmen, also know where. You may be one. You may employ one. You may even pass a group of illegal immigrants waiting for a day job on the way to your own job. Needless to say many illegal immigrants are good people just like you and me (in many cases just trying to care for their families) except for a problem that can't be overlooked: They're in the United States illegally.
While attending a meeting of some 30 pastors of independent Christian churches in Southern California, writer Christine A. Scheller of "Christianity Today" was told by one of the pastors that not only is his congregation 50-percent illegal, but that among the group assembled, "We have a lot of pastors who are illegal." The attitude Scheller encountered among pastors was almost completely accommodating to lawbreaking. A former Texas pastor actually compared churches providing a safe haven to illegal immigrants to the Jewish asylums of World War II. The analogy is ludicrous on more than one level. For one: If enforcement of immigration laws were a priority in the United States, the aforementioned church sign would not be so transparent and unapologetic. If government were actually policing immigration, that sign would be read as: "Policia, acqui!"
According to the Pew Hispanic Center's most recent study, there are currently about 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. The same study indicates that 66 percent (as of last March) of the "unauthorized population" has been in the United States for 10 years or less, 40 percent of those for five or less -- suggesting their roots aren't deep here and amnesty and amnesty-like solutions are far from the only -- or even most obvious -- answers to our immigration problems.
As it happens, one pastor told "Christianity Today" that although he "had crossed the border illegally as a young man to marry his Mexican-American fiance," he now "believes the current process for getting into the United States is 'great' and 'necessary.'" He says that "When an undocumented worker responds to the gospel, 'the Lord will not be glorified' if that person continues to live a lie." Could we put him in charge of enforcement?
Unfortunately, though, the clergymen with the bullhorns on immigration are putting their emphasis somewhere else entirely. In a joint statement on immigration, the Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico express their concern that: "Alarmingly, migrants often are treated as criminals by civil enforcement authorities." But, dear bishops, when we are speaking of those illegally migrating, their actions do, in fact, fall under the "crime" category.
Cardinal Roger Mahoney has recently made headlines for encouraging the priests in his archdiocese of Los Angeles to defy a proposed federal law that he and his supporters on this front are assuming would mean churches would be legally forbidden from providing basics to an immigrant in need -- bread, for instance, both of the consecrated and Wonder varieties. But a look at the proposed language suggests something different, and at least one expert tells me he's betting this tempest becomes a moot point before a new law is passed.
But even when that legislative hurdle is overcome, there's the spirit of the cardinal's protest. At an Ash Wednesday Mass at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahoney echoed the same general sentiment as that bishops' statement, blasting "increasing hostility toward immigrants." While ministering to least of these among us, he could spare some prominent words for good citizenship -- which doesn't have a prayer of a chance without actual citizenship.