Immigration realities and the call of the Gospel
By Anna Alicia Chavez, M.Th. , Migration Specialist
Today in our society, immigration is a most complex subject that arouses many heated discussions. While there may be valid arguments on both sides of the fence, as disciples of Jesus Christ our first and foremost concern must be for the welfare of the migrant, a human person like ourselves who comes in search of food and sustenance, arriving here “thirsty after crossing merciless deserts, naked after being robbed even of their clothing by smugglers at the border, sick from heat-related illnesses, imprisoned in the detention centers.”1 Whatsoever we do to them, we do to Jesus, for the immigrant in our midst is the very presence of Christ among us.
In 2006, to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act authorizing the plan to construct a multi-billion dollar fence across hundreds of miles of the southern border of the United States.
The increased fortification and militarization of the border has intentionally pushed migrants traveling north into a more remote and difficult terrain where more than 200 migrants die each year of heat exhaustion and dehydration.2
According to hate crime statistics published annually by the FBI, anti-Latino hate crimes rose by almost 35 percent between 2003 and 2006, the latest year for which statistics are available.3
In January 2009, there were 32,000 immigrant adults and children in detention centers all over the U.S.4
58 percent of immigrant detainees do not have a criminal background yet they are subjected to the same mandatory detention laws that largely apply to criminal immigrants.5
Non-criminal, undocumented immigrant detainees are typically held for 65 days. In January 2009, however, investigators counted 400 detainees that had been detained for more than a year.6
Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the United States
A Catholic approach to immigration reform includes analyzing and addressing the factors driving migration along with advocating for reform of the current U.S. migration policy. These policies are outdated and ill-equipped to serve the needs of both immigrants and the nation. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholics nationwide have formed the Catholic Campaign for Comprehensive Immigration Reform—also called the Justice for Immigrants Campaign—that supports the following:
- A path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented people currently living in the U.S.
- Reform of our employment-based immigration system so that migrant workers can enter the United States and work in a safe, regulated, and humane manner.
- Reform of the family-based immigration system, so that waiting times to reunite families are significantly reduced.
- Restoration of due process protections for immigrants.
- Policies to address the root causes of migration, such as economic development in poor countries.
Source: United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB)
Potential Impact of Immigration Reform in the Gulf South
For the Gulf South region, immigration reform potentially touches the lives of millions of people, both the undocumented and members of their families. There are 7,599,847 total immigrants in the Gulf South states, of whom an estimated 2,700,000 are undocumented:
- Louisiana: 143,267 total immigrants; 65,000 estimated undocumented immigrants.
- Mississippi: 49,483 total immigrants; 35,000 estimated undocumented immigrants.
- Florida: 3,440,918 total immigrants; 1,050,000 estimated undocumented immigrants.
- Texas: 3,828,904 total immigrants; 1,450,000 estimated undocumented immigrants.
- Alabama: 137, 275 total immigrants; 100,000 estimated undocumented immigrants.
*Source: Adapted by the Rev. Edward Arroyo, S.J., from the Migration Policy Institute Data Hub Table
1. Daniel Groody, CSC, “Crucified in the Desert,” National Catholic Register, 82(20) (May 14-20, 2006):14.
4. Donald Kerwin and Serena Yi-Ying Lin, “Immigration Detention: Can ICE Meet Its Legal Imperatives and Case Management Responsibilities?,” Report by Migration Policy Institute (accessed Sept. 11, 2009).