Families ripped apart and deported in raids by the hands of officials observing broken immigration policies robs immigrants of their natural rights and serves to undermine the nation’s foundational Christian culture, Archbishop Samuel Aquila told a crowd gathered at Regis University last week.
Family, he said, must come before the state when considering the reform of the nation’s immigration laws.
“As we face the breakdown of the family in this country, we should recognize that supporting families through immigration law may be our clearest hope to the restoration of Christian culture in the United States,” he said April 4 before a room of Catholic faithful, educators and officials.
“Today, immigrants are too often viewed solely through a financial lens. They are viewed as workers and reduced merely to their economic potential. But immigrants are members of families, and those families are essential to our social order. Respecting the family means finding alternatives to deportation when families will be torn apart by it.”
The Denver Archdiocese’s shepherd called for comprehensive immigration reform as part of a series of talks about Catholicism in the modern world hosted on the Denver campus.
He presented three principles of reform that draw from the natural law, cluding the respect of the dignity of the family, the right of a nation to secure its borders, and an assessment of its economic health and global political and economic corruption.
Archbishop Aquila referenced the 2006 Swift raids in the Midwest and Greeley saying such moves “won’t solve systematic economic problems or the problem of undocumented immigration.”
The raiding and deportation of the 1,300-some meatpacking plant workers does “more damage than good as the workers are needed, and it often ends up separating families,” he said.
Rather, the nation has an obligation to welcome foreigners in search of security and a just livelihood, especially those arriving in duress.
“I’m not a politician, or an economist. I am a pastor,” Archbishop Aquila said. “But the number of immigrants employed in this country suggests that there is a need, and an ability, to welcome immigrants to America. … But immigration law is broken in America.”
He shared how his own grandparents emigrated from Sicily, Italy in the early 1900s to rural Ohio.
“They left everything they had because they needed what America had to offer: the prospect of jobs, of stability, of schools and doctors, and enough food to feed their children,” the archbishop said.
The patterns of immigration in the past, such as that of his ancestors, remain the foundation of today’s immigration laws. But immigration now is increasingly temporary and undocumented, he said.
Of the millions of immigrants that come into the United States—including the approximately 10 million here who are undocumented—many are searching for work to save and send back to their native home. Few have plans to stay permanently. Some come to America seeking asylum from corrupt governments.
Archbishop Aquila drew on the writings of Pope Pius XII, who in 1948 wrote that natural law urges migration be opened to those forced out of their homeland by revolutions, unemployment or hunger. America should be a steward of its natural resources to immigrants, the pope said, if it can support a large population.
“For the creator of the universe” the pope wrote, “made all good things primarily for the good of all.”
This consideration should be tempered with an assessment of America’s own economic condition and the disparity between it and other countries.
“If we are unable to welcome more people seeking jobs, we shouldn’t,” he said. “If we want to consider immigration justly, we will first consider whether our own economic policy supports economic growth and administrative integrity in other countries.”
The archbishop said that reform should include policies encouraging other countries to strengthen their own economies and stamp out the corruption and greed of experimental socialist and communist systems.
A third principle that should be used in immigration reform is recognizing a nation’s right to security, starting with a secure border, to help stem the tide of illegal immigration.
“If we need immigrants in the country, or if we can support them, we ought to make entry into the country easier and faster,” he said.
He added that this doesn’t negate the responsibility to check the backgrounds of those entering the country to ensure they’re not criminals or terrorists, and to enforce immigration policies.
The archbishop’s talk echoes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ and the bishops of Mexico’s joint pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.” They called for global anti-poverty efforts—including economic aid, debt relief and trade—expanded opportunities to reunify families and a temporary worker program.
Speaking to the audience, the archbishop said that Jesus Christ was an immigrant himself and therefore all people should welcome, respect and treat with justice those who immigrate to the country.
“Whatever we do for the immigrants among us, we will have done for Christ,” he said.
Reactions after the archbishop’s talk were positive, like from Regis University freshmen Patricia Olivas, 19, who said her parents emigrated from Mexico.
“I like how he said people have dignity and deserve to be treated as people here,” she said.
Grade school teacher Jonah Lippert said he appreciated the archbishop’s balanced views on immigration, including the government’s role to protect its borders while also respecting human dignity.
“He asked us to witness to that,” Lippert said, “and I liked that a lot.”