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The immigration conundrum in one Southern state


No one should be surprised. Mississippi’s two Catholic bishops, Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson and Louis F. Kihneman III of Biloxi have joined the state’s Episcopal, Lutheran and United Methodist leaders in condemning recent actions by federal authorities in the mass arrest of workers in various food production facilities and their consequent confinement.

The stand taken by these religious figures is hardly new. Officials of many denominations, including innumerable other Catholic figures, consistently have called for humane policies regarding immigrants living in this country who have not yet sought, or have been granted, citizenship.

Fundamentally, all these recent statements and undertakings by figures of responsibility in religion, in not just Mississippi but throughout the country, insist that the flawed legal provisions for immigration and abuses back home are the problem. The people innocently trapped in or affected by these situations are not the problem; they are victims of the problem.

The Mississippi Christian leaders, including Bishops Kopacz and Kihneman, declared that while they come from different religious communities, with different views and traditions regarding religion, together they see Jesus Christ as Son of God and savior, and they are one in the opinion that this basic faith in the Lord impels them to speak for and attend to any human being whose basic dignity or peace in life is at risk.

Several days ago, a news story on National Public Radio featured a Catholic parish in a small Mississippi town significantly struck by the federal raids and arrests.

A parishioner, a youth in the local public high school and coincidentally a model student, is an American-born citizen, as are his siblings. His parents, however, were born in Guatemala and are not citizens. His father was arrested and is now detained in a place unknown to his family.

The local Catholic church is trying to help this family, along with others, who not only are suddenly without the family member who provided for their livelihood, but they also must endure the anguish of not knowing where this family member is or what will be his plight.

Many of the people who have come to the United States recently have fled terrible conditions in their native places. So, what is new? Irish poured into this country, including my own forebears, to escape financial want and tyranny in Ireland. Italians came in droves to America to get away from poverty in Italy. Germans came for the same purpose, in great numbers. The Poles came to escape oppression in Poland.

The Church came to their rescue once they arrived here. Many could not find, or afford, medical care, so the Church built a network of hospitals from Anchorage to Miami, Honolulu to Boston. Public schools scorned and insulted immigrant children, so the Catholic Church built schools, including universities. Bishops and priests confronted political authorities on behalf of the immigrants.

Mississippi’s present-day Catholic bishops started nothing new.

The treatment of immigrants is troubling in so many respects; however, this side of the story especially is outrageous. Law enforcement also has charged many of these food production operations, in effect, with luring undocumented immigrants into working for them. Desperate for ways to make a living, these immigrants fall into this trap.

Then, once “employed,” the immigrants are victimized again, paid a pauper’s wage, with no benefits or safeguards. They do not dare to protest, lest they expose themselves as illegal immigrants. Talk about exploitation.

By the way, the Catholic bishops in Mississippi acted precisely in the way Catholic ecumenism is supposed to. They compromised nothing. They did nothing to dilute Catholicism or to say all religions are alike. They recognized what was common belief among Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and United Methodists, and then moved to use this common belief as the reason to think, live and act as Jesus thought, lived and acted.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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