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Our God-given dignity should shape our laws

Recent news stories present us with immigrants and refugees whose God-given dignity is being disregarded or subject to a system of laws that fails to adequately take that dignity into account.

I’m sure that many of you were deeply saddened as I was to see the images of Oscar Martinez and his almost two-year-old daughter, Angie Valeria, drowned in the waters of the Rio Grande. And these Salvadoran immigrants are just two of the thousands who are often fleeing violence, crime, failed governments and crushing poverty in their homelands.

As Catholics, we should urge our elected leaders to treat these people in ways that respect their God-given dignity. When he describes the judgement of the nations, Jesus identifies himself with strangers like these who are in need. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me” (Mt 25:35-36).

The question that each of us as believers must face is, “How do I welcome the stranger in need that I encounter?” And since the immigration issue is also a legal issue, “How am I urging my political representatives to pass reforms that address the immigration crisis while respecting each person’s dignity and the legitimate needs of our country to control its borders?”

Most of us come from immigrant families. Our country has long benefited from the gifts and talents of immigrants and treating them with dignity and respect is a part of our faith. That our country’s laws for immigration and asylum haven’t changed in decades clearly shows how our political leaders in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, have drastically failed to fulfill their responsibilities. This failure in itself shows a lack of respect for the immigrants and refugees who come to us for help but also for the American citizens who bear the burden of their inaction. Without an appropriate response to this crisis, the safety of our fellow citizens in border regions and those who patrol our border is endangered.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle must put aside the blinders of their ideologies and politics, as well as the practice of adding things to bills that have nothing to do with the legislation.”

We cannot be indifferent to the suffering of our neighbors and fellow citizens. Christ calls us to be like the Good Samaritan who stopped and cared for the Jewish man who was beaten by robbers and left for dead. In an October 2016 general audience, Pope Francis offered us this guidance on responding to the plight of immigrants. “Dear brothers and sisters, do not fall into the trap of closing in on ourselves, indifferent to the needs of brothers and worried only about our own interests.”

“And to clothe the naked,” the Pope asked, “what is it but to restore dignity to those who have lost it? It is precisely to the extent that we open ourselves to others that life becomes fruitful, society regains peace and people recover their full dignity.”

Our country’s laws for legal immigration must be overhauled in a comprehensive manner. Politicians on both sides of the aisle must put aside the blinders of their ideologies and politics, as well as the practice of adding things to bills that have nothing to do with the legislation.

We have failed for well over 25 years to advance immigration laws that respect the God-given dignity of the human being. The current system is so complex and time-consuming that it encourages those faced with urgent threats to their safety or wellbeing to ignore it, sometimes with tragic consequences. Our elected representatives need to hear from us that the dignity of each person who comes to us must be respected because God gave us our dignity and we cannot take it away.

Colorado was witness to the heroic work of St. Frances Cabrini, who dedicated her life to helping immigrants in the United States, establishing schools, orphanages and hospitals to care for them in keeping with their God-given dignity. May she intercede for us and our elected officials as we try to respond to those strangers in need who have fled their homes.

Featured Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

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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