Thursday, June 17, 2010

We're better than this: The Call for Immigration Reform

The Jesuit provincials of the U.S. have recently written a letter to President Obama and Congress calling for immigration reform. In their opening paragraph they write: "Through our ministries, we witness the tragic consequences of our current immigration system. This is not the America that any of us desire. We can and must do better."

Sometimes, when I read internet comments to news articles relating to immigration reform, I am greatly saddened at the extent of hate and cruelty that I find. I think Americans are better than the type of discourse that colors our commentary on this issue. I understand the anger that some feel against those who enter the country illegally and who do not go through the lawful means of obtaining citizenship. At the same time, I do not believe this gives us the right to treat illegals as if they are less than human. Many go through great lengths to come into this country because they find a lot of hope here in America. They think they will be able to find a better life here in this country and support their family, and they risk a lot in order to do so. This is a compliment to America as a country and what we represent. Americans are a people who I believe are greatly generous to those in need. Although many Americans are currently struggling in the current economic climate, I truly believe that Americans are better than simply demonizing "the other" and spewing out hate.

Indeed, our history is a history of immigrants, of those who fled their own country in order to establish a better life here in the United States. The founding story of America is not much different from the many people who flee their own country to come here today. The first immigrants were "illegals." They did not have papers or wait years before given citizenship. They came into a land that was primarily populated by people who looked unlike them out of necessity.

For all of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people who live in this country and who look to Abraham as one of our founding fathers of faith, we do well to remember that Abraham himself was an alien in a strange land. Abraham knew what it was like to be a stranger and to venture forth into the unknown. Many Abrahams today are in our midst, and they simply seek a better life. Could we not, at least, treat them with respect instead of trash to be thrown away? People of faith believe that we are made in the image of God. God does not see us as Americans or Mexicans or illegals. God sees us as His own children whom He loves very much. I do not believe God sees the divisions; let us try to imitate His sight.

Our current immigration system rips families apart, encourages people to live in fear, and destroys lives. America is better than that. We have been a country that illustrates itself as a beacon of hope and of freedom. Let us live up to that image and not paint ourselves as a people of hatred and resentment.

Am I being too idealistic? Is my picture of America wrong?

In any case, I think many would be in agreement that America is very much in need of immigration reform. I recommend reading the provincials' letter, which you can find here. They put forward some principles that will improve our current system.

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