OScar Henriquez Professor of engineering and student of Christ
God has been very gracious towards me. I recognize that I would be lost without Him. It is because of Him that I have what I have. I am not talking about material things, although I am thankful that I have a home, food, and all my basic needs met, but I know I am truly blessed because of the people that surround me, my friends, and my family. They are all a blessing in my life, and although we are all on our separate journeys, together, we all help each other come closer to God. My parents and I immigrated to the United States in 1999. It now seems like a lifetime away, I remember, at the age of six, the day I when my father and I left to meet my mother in Chicago. My mother had left three months before us and was anxiously waiting for our arrival. My grandparents had accompanied us to the airport, and as we sat waiting to board the plane, I curled up with my grandma not knowing when the next time I was going to be able to see her. I had(and still have) an exceptional relationship with my grandparents, leaving them, and the life I knew behind was not only scary but just something I could not comprehend, it seemed like my world was ending. The thought of not being able to sit at the dinner table with them and enjoy their love was devastating. The move was difficult for us, and we were isolated away from what we knew, the land that we were familiar with, the language that we spoke, the culture that we practiced. We were living in a strange land; however, the one thing that remained constant was our Faith.
As I have grown older, I have come to understand that although there were some hardships along the way, in reality, we had it more comfortable when compared to others. We were taken in by family, my parents found jobs, I started school, we found a community that invited us in, and we were together, ultimately, we were always under God's gracious care. I tell you my story because although unique, I am not alone. Millions of people all over the world immigrate for different reasons, and as Catholics, we have a duty to understand and respond to the social teachings of the Church about immigration.
Pope Pius XII wrote the Exsul Familia (The Émigré Family) after World War II in which His Holiness addressed the need for the dioceses to take in the millions of refugees who were estranged from their home. The Pontiff views the émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, as the archetype of every refugee family. Therefore, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are the models and protectors of every migrant, alien, and refugee (Mathew 2:13-16) . Every person has an equal right to receive from the earth what is necessary for life—food, clothing, shelter. Moreover, every person has the right to education, medical care, religion, and the expression of one's culture. In many places, people live in fear, danger, or dehumanizing poverty. Clearly, it is not God's will that some of his children live in luxury while others have nothing. In Luke's Gospel, the rich man was condemned for living well while the poor man starved at his doorstep (Lk 16:19-31). Before God, all are equal; the earth was given by God to all. When a person cannot achieve a meaningful life in his or her own land, that person has the right to move. Catholic social teaching states that the decisions we make should be, not out of shortsighted self-interest, but with regard for the common good. That means that a moral person cannot consider only what is suitable for his or her own self and family, but must act with the good of all people as his or her guiding principle. While individuals have the right to move in search of a safe and humane life, no country is bound to accept all those who wish to resettle there. Ordinarily, people do not leave the security of their own land and culture just to seek adventure in a new place. Instead, they migrate because they are desperate, and the opportunity for a safe and secure life does not exist in their own land. Immigrants and refugees endure many hardships and often long for the homes they left behind.
The war against poverty and misery seems to have no end, and therefore developed nations will continue to be pressured by those who desire to resettle in their land, at least until our Lord comes again. While people have the right to move, no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeopardized. As Catholics, we should not view the work of the federal government and its immigration control as negative or evil. Those who work to enforce our nation's immigration laws often do so out of a sense of loyalty to the common good and compassion for poor people seeking a better life. In an ideal world, there would be no need for immigration control; however, that perfect world has not yet been achieved.
A country's regulation of borders and control of immigration must be governed by concern for all people and by mercy and justice. A nation may not simply decide that it wants to provide for its own people and no others. A sincere commitment to the needs of all must prevail. A developed nation's right to limit immigration must be based on justice, mercy, and the common good, not on self-interest. Moreover, immigration policy ought to take into account other important values, such as the right of families to live together. Merciful immigration policy will not force married couples or children to live separated from their families for long periods. As Catholics, we have to speak up for those who are not able to speak for themselves, help the ones that are most vulnerable, and our actions should be to promote the common good of each person. We have to remember that the US, as a whole, is made up of immigrants, some more recent than others and that together we are all children of God. We are on this earth to help each other become stronger in mind, body, and spirit by bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth through acts of love and service. After all, each of us are not native to this earthly land. We are on a life-long journey to our heavenly homeland.
We pray that "goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, and that each of us will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." (Psalm 23:6).