Immigration is a complex and highly contentious issue in America. It constitutes wide range of areas that have tremendous political, social and religious significance. It deals not only with the opening of doors, orderly process of granting visas to people of other nationalities (myself included) and allowing them to enter the country legally to work, to unite and reunite with families but also, involves widespread drug and gun trafficking and the plight of the countless human beings who, out of desperation to improve their living conditions, leave their families and country behind, pay human smugglers a huge amount of money and risk their lives crossing the Arizona border. I tip my hat to the brave souls who have endured the blazing heat and the freezing cold of the Sonoran desert, not to mention the numerous cases of rape. I sympathize with those who didn’t make it and pray for the border patrol agents whose lives are on the line and have in fact been victims of violence by some dangerous individuals.Back in October of 2003, as part of Pastoral exposure, I went to El Paso, TX together with eight classmates from Mundelein Seminary to get first hand experience of border issues. We stayed in a house that provided board and lodging for the undocumented, spent a significant amount of time with them and heard heartbreaking stories of human struggle. It was intense. I remember a man from Honduras, joined by four friends, left their families back home to seek better lives in the states. Unfortunately, only two made it while the rest suffered severe beatings by Mexican Authorities.The signing into law of SB 1070 has, unsurprisingly and by far led to raging controversy mostly among various Hispanic groups initiated by leading figures obviously because it will terribly result to racial profiling. While I don’t deny the fact that I look and sound foreign and when asked for documentation twice in Patagonia, acted nonchalantly, the New Immigration Law is primarily directed against the Hispanics. The effort is entirely politically motivated because GOP occupy the Majority in the State’s legislature. But since the Hispanic population is rapidly growing and will definitely be the largest minority in the next generation or so, SB 1070 from a purely political standpoint is a mistake. To secure the border and make America safe, there is a need to pass migrant- friendly reform, establish concrete measures and realistic means to help workers get jobs, even the most menial. Immigration might slow people down but won’t stop. I personally support the idea of sweeping reform because poverty will always force people, no matter how difficult, to leave their roots and migrate to greener pasture. A friend of mine once told me that though she made a fortune in the Middle east, spent sometime in Europe and Canada, yet, she still hoped to finally settle down in the states which she described as her final destination. Well, it’s not always the case but the Filipino Diaspora is a testimony that the country is in deep economic trouble.
The Catholic church in the United States, has always been pro-immigrant. The influx of migrants in the early 20’s signaled and demanded an overwhelming need for Ministers. Nuns and Priests from different parts of the globe have been warmly welcomed by religious orders and dioceses to serve their people.
Back when I was still a theology student in Chicago and new in the area, I happened to meet a lady in her 30’s in the Filipino store whose complexion reflected a typical Filipina. And so, I politely introduced myself and asked if she were. She said, I was. Dang! Maybe, she really was but I question her accent.
The late Sr. Jose Hobday, native American in origin, a feisty Franciscan Nun, a fierce preacher, definition of a Disciple, has furthered my outlook on migration. Delivering a lecture on the topic church in America, she confidently claimed, in a captive audience that she was the only native there and the rest were immigrants.
Finally, Exodus 23:9 serves as an important reminder to anyone who thinks that showing deep and enduring sense of compassion to a perfect stranger is a crime. Remember ‘never to harm a stranger for you were once an alien in a foreign land,’ maybe not you, maybe, your parents or your grandparents. But the message is pure and simple, ‘do not do unto others what you don’t want them do unto you.’ Amen.