I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Toward Comprehensive Immigration Reform

One of the most contentious political and social issues in the United States over the past few years has been what to do about immigration policy, and in particular, access from our southern border with Mexico.

Americans appear to have mixed attitudes regarding the issue of immigration. When Gallup asks respondents “Do you think immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for this country today?” 72% say it is a good. That figure is one of the highest approval rates since 2002, and at no time within that period have less than 52% said immigration was positive. [1] However, in the same report, when poll takers are asked whether immigration should be decreased, kept at the same level, or increased, 38% said it should be lowered, the same percentage said it should be kept the same, and 21% said it should be raised. Gallup asks about immigration in general terms, and doesn’t specifically ask for an opinion on illegal as opposed to legal migration. No doubt poll takers’ opinions on the differences may influence their answers. 

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump has made the immigration issue a signature feature of his bid. Trump has galvanized those who are upset about a failure of U.S. security, which has allowed approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants into the U.S. in recent decades. His rallies have taken on a familiar refrain with supporters who engage in a call and response with the entrepreneur (“build the wall!”) when he states that under a Trump presidency we will build an impenetrable barrier at the southern border, and follows up that he’ll make the Mexican government pay for it. Although many observers, such as the Mexican authorities, scoff at the latter point, an indirect system of payment would probably be based on interdicting the remittances of illegal migrants intended for family back home, increasing fees on visas issued to the Mexican diplomatic corps and other high-level individuals, as well as on border crossing cards and at ports, together with increased tariffs. [2] Trump has also talked tough on creating a “deportation force” charged with rounding up foreign nationals and expelling them from the country. In recent weeks, however, his advisors seem to have had him soft-pedal the issue, making his policy sound similar to that of the Obama administration.

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Hillary Clinton’s policy is quite different from Trump’s. [3] She has looked to expand the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) which itself was an outgrowth of Obama’s DACA initiative (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). DACA was an executive action taken after failed attempts in Congress to pass the “DREAM Act.” The administration’s goal is to prevent the detention and possible deportation of young adults who were brought by illegal parents to the U.S., but have been raised here and attended schools and otherwise have displayed positive aspects of citizenship. DAPA raises the stakes by granting a deferred reviewable action on the parents of current U.S. citizens who are not here legally. The problem is that Obama’s treatment of the issue is in legal and legislative limbo, which may continue in a Clinton presidency.

The vacancy on the Supreme Court led to a judicial deadlock on a challenge to Obama’s efforts earlier this summer. [4] Barring a subsequent Supreme Court vote with a Clinton appointee or a Democrat legislative landslide in November, these proposals may never move forward. Clinton also supports a “pathway” to citizenship for the millions of illegal aliens currently here. On this idea, Clinton appears to be on solid ground. Nearly three-quarters of Americans in a Pew poll believe that undocumented persons in the U.S. should be allowed to stay if they meet “certain requirements” (which were not disclosed). [5] When the poll was conducted in March, even 47% of Trump supporters agreed, and a plurality of the supporters of both of Trump’s then remaining challengers (Ted Cruz and John Kasich) also agreed that they should not be deported. Trump’s on-again-off-again comments about the severity with which he would have law enforcement actively pursue and detain illegal immigrants is to be contrasted with the fact that Americans of all demographic stripes appear to disagree with his rhetoric. [6]

What is the faith community saying and doing about the immigration issue? The Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) [7], comprising the National Council of Churches, as well as some Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others, is calling for immigration reform which will “welcome the stranger and treat all human beings with dignity and respect.” The IIC specifically advocates for immigration policy that preserves or reunites families and creates a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Meanwhile the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform [8] led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued its own call for comprehensive reform to current immigration law.

The work on the Catholic Church’s plea for a humane immigration policy began with a remarkable cross-border pastoral letter agreed to by both the USCCB and Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano (the Mexican Conference of Bishops) called “Strangers No Longer” [9], which set the groundwork for the Church’s current vision based on the Bible’s scriptural principles regarding migration, and the Church’s social teachings which make justice and dignity paramount concerns.

First, the Campaign advocates for more global efforts to combat poverty so that would-be migrants are able to remain in their homeland rather than leave out of desperation. Second, the bishops call for reducing the backlog of submissions for visas in the U.S., to reunite families, and increase the number that are presently issued. Third, they call for a fair and just guest and temporary worker system that is needed for the labor that migrants are already providing in aid of the economy. Fourth, similar to other advocates, they call for broad-based legal citizenship for those illegal immigrants currently here, if certain conditions are met. Fifth, the bishops want due process restored to immigrants and asylum seekers. Immigrants should not be detained for lengthy periods or without charges, and nor should they be subjected to ethnic profiling that casts suspicion on migrants as potential terrorists.

The Church’s role in caring for the stranger is well depicted in a recent segment of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly that featured Kino Border Initiative, a bi-national ministry that aids deported migrants on the Sonora side of Nogales from its sister town in Arizona. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Diocese of Tucson said of their work, “Our country has a responsibility to protect its border, especially to deal with things like drug trafficking and weapons trafficking and human trafficking. But all that says is that for the economic migrant, we need to find legal ways for people to be able to enter the country…(e)ven though there is a wall that separated us, we are one in Christ. And that’s what the teaching of the Church is, that there are no frontiers, there are no borders within the family of the Church.” [10]

Kirk G. Morrison, MLIS
(Mr. Morrison is a librarian in Connecticut and interested in issues of social justice and rebuilding social capital and civics in communities nationwide)