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Jesus was an immigrant

“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him’” (Mt 2:14).

The angel’s message to St. Joseph was clear. He needed to flee from Bethlehem to protect Mary and Jesus from the wrath of King Herod. And so, as soon as Joseph woke from his dream, he gathered Mary and Jesus and fled by night to Egypt.

Jesus was driven from his birthplace by violence and forced to seek shelter in a foreign land.

The summer of 2014 brought a wave of unaccompanied children to our southern border as they fled the drug-fueled violence and poverty of Central America. The stories that these children brought with them are heart-wrenching.

The reaction to these children arriving was mixed. Some people welcomed them with compassion, while others worried about the burden that their arrival would place on our country.

On Jan. 3, a new U.S. Congress began work, and among the issues on its plate is the sensitive topic of immigration. The issue has divided our country, but as we begin a new year, I want to suggest a change to the framing of the immigration debate.

Americans are not anti-immigrant, as some activists claim. We are a people who believe in the rule of law. But our current laws are not adequate for the situation being faced by those who come seeking refuge. They fail to take into account that many people are driven from their homeland by violence or crippling poverty.

This is what needs to change in our debate. It needs to be framed around respect for the human person and what our laws can do to protect and promote it. Immigration reform should take into account both our citizens’ needs and the dignity of those who are forced to leave their home to survive.

When Jesus speaks about the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, he specifically lists giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty and welcoming the stranger, among the behaviors that characterize those who will be welcomed into heaven. And this should be our response to those who come to us seeking refuge.
In his message for the 2014 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis urged Catholics to see every human being as a child of God. “He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected, and loved.” This is especially true when they are children.
As the issue of immigration is discussed in your families, workplaces and among friends, I encourage you to not think in terms of political party but to take the side of those who are vulnerable and are in search of refuge.

May the Lord grant to us the courage to live according to the Gospel and the strength to love as he does!

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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