A thousand stories from the New York area—or yours-- can illustrate how truly grim some of these issues are. Given the course of so much of immigration policy this past year, our conference could well have been sponsored not by CLINIC & MRS, but by… Cynic & Morose.
But it is a BI-polar moment. A BI-polar moment.
At the positive pole. Two months ago, we decided on Long Island that it was “BISHOP time”—time to see where he was on issues and what we needed to do. This bishop was newly in office; it was our first conversation with him.
Believe it or not, the very first question he asked was, “What is the Church’s position on legalization?” We told him the Church stood unequivocally for “legalization of the maximum number of undocumented persons.” He pressed: “that’s really the Church’s position???” We replied, “Not only is that the Church’s position, but the USCCB has just written the second pastoral letter in three years, REPEATING the call for legalization. Here it is, hot off the presses, Chapter IV.” At that he said, “Well then, I support it.”
Now you might think: Well that’s only logical for a bishop— EXCEPT that THIS bishop was Congressman-Timothy-Bishop—a Democrat who recently won his first term. Now if legalization is such a loser, why does a man who won an election by a razor-thin margin, in a heavily Republican area, in the shadow of the fallen Towers, support it?? And-- if anyone thinks our Bishops have “lost authority” on these issues, they’re wrong.
At the other pole, one simple story of GREAT PAIN. We were searching to hire someone to manage a day laborer site. We found the perfect guy, a man named Manuel from Colombia, here 17 years, married, with a small daughter. Good skills, good heart, thrilled to work with the church, and then… it was I-9 time. As I saw Manuel’s hopes—and face—melt into tears, two questions burned in me: Manuel, husband and father: is this the 17th …or the 18th … time you’ve heard this rejection this year? And: Does it hurt more when it’s your CHURCH doing the rejecting??
Don’t we all have these stories… too, too many of them-- families and children “maimed a little every day of their lives,” as Martin Luther King put it. We bring them ALL here today.
Thanks to MRS and CLINIC and all the panels and workshops, we have excellent materials, arguments and a good sense of this Hill.
But let’s also remember our SPECIAL AUTHORITY on these issues, AND where it comes from.
For us, immigration issues are not just personal, or emotional, or political or economic. They are biblical. Straight out of the Hebrew Scripture, and straight out of the Good News of compassion, resurrection, redemption, and LIBERATION, our - response - is - evangelical. Evangelical! It was no accident—and it is a defining part of the GOOD NEWS-- that the Son of God, Jesus of Egypt, the one we believe in and follow, the Savior of the World, was an undocumented refugee. We are and bring that EVANGELICAL AUTHORITY with us.
We’re the Church of a billion believers-- the institution that invented globalization, for all its best purposes, led by the Pope that invented the globalization of solidarity. We have huge numbers in America. And most of today’s immigrants here are… Catholic. They are ours. Now what does that really MEAN??? Millions of brothers and sisters IN FAITH, praying to the same God, the same Father. We bring great AUTHORITY OF IDENTITY AND NUMBERS with us.
In a Church that does 10,000 things well, how many clients do we serve directly?? One hundred-thousand—two hundred-thousand? We KNOW what we’re talking about-- we know the lives and the names of refugees and immigrants as well as their struggles. That’s authority of the first class.
And WE are FIRED-UP to unbreak these hearts, families and lives.
Let’s talk about FIRE--
--because it was also no accident that the Holy Spirit—God’s gift to us of strength, courage and wisdom-- came as FIRE. FIRE. Providing not just light—but also heat.
We are fired-up-- and should thunder-- about a lot of things we’ve seen at home and talked about here.
- The slamming of the door on refugees, with every bureaucratic and sleight-of-hand effort to make permanent only the smallest possible crack in the opening
- Special call-in registration, which has become check-out registration for so many who complied in good faith, and the “D” words: disappearing, detaining, delegalizing, and deporting that have only brought us from Twin Towers to Twin Dangers: the danger of the government actually missing the target on national security and the danger of minimizing what the government is really doing.
- Hollow bullets: we are fired-up there because of typically superb work by CLINIC.
- Agony and death in container ships and tractor-trailers, and in the desert—where the only water is tears, where more people have died in the past five years than trying to cross the Berlin Wall in its entire existence.
- We will not act or tolerate being treated like these are “credible fear interviews.”
- We will not tolerate “expedited removals” from these conversations.
- We will not be seduced by a few words of Spanish. Or clever English. WE speak Voting as a Second Language. Check the census: 1 out of 10 Americans is foreign-born; it’s more than 1 out of 5 when counting children of foreign-born. Millions are citizens who vote; even more are married or related to current voters.
- No more battered cause syndrome.
- No more silence of the lambs.
- No bit-piece amnesty this time.
IT IS FIRE that says that most of the hard questions actually have easy answers:
- If the question is: Doesn’t legalization just reward lawlessness? The answer is: legalization ENDS lawlessness—in fact, puts an end to the serial lawlessness when immigration laws that are out-of-touch with reality force countless workers—and their employers!— to violate not only the immigration laws, but labor laws, tax laws and laws about social security cards and drivers licenses.
- If the question is: What can we do with 9 million illegals? The answer is: at one extreme, we deport them all. The other extreme is, do nothing. What’s sensible, good for national security and American is to bring them through a process.
- If the question is: Are you kidding about illegals and national security? The answer is, legalize people, WITH background checks, because it’s obviously better to know who they ARE. Better documented than undocumented.
- If the question is: But more will come… i YES this country was built on faith, family and labor, and immigrants have always been at the heart of it. America does best when its laws match its values, history and reality.
- If our own question is: Will this happen this year? The answer is, NO, it’s probably a two-year battle, but it starts NOW.
- If our own question is: Will our regular advocacy and justice and peace groups carry this flame? The answer is, “Maybe and that’d be great—but the first focus should be the immigrant communities and their families-- even if that means building new networks and styles.
- Finally, If our own question is: Isn’t the key to all this education? The answer is, NO!!-- the key is ORGANIZING, not education.
- No more shadows.
- No more hiding.
- No more fear.
- No more I-9 tears on this face.
--believing as the Jesuit Tielhard de Chardin did, that “the WORLD will belong to whoever offers the GREATEST HOPE.”
IT IS HOPE that says to those we care about at home:
- THIS – CRUCIFIXION – IS - OVER.
- The time is now and I am here.
IT’S HOPE that won’t confuse the noise with the numbers. The - numbers - are - on - our - side. The unions know it; Business knows it; Alan Greenspan knows it; the Democrats know it, the Republicans know it, Jorge Bush y Ricardo Cheney know it.
IT’S IRRESISTIBLE HOPE that pays attention to and celebrates surprises! WATCH FOR THIS FREEDOM RIDE AND RALLY this September. IT’S GOING TO BE GREAT. Watch how it electrifies our movement!! Legalization is no longer the issue that sinks the boat—it’s the engine. Are - we - ready - to - WIN??
Archbishop Romero once remarked, “When I am told in a somewhat mocking tone that I think I am a prophet, I reply: ‘God be praised! You ought to be one too.“ The readings at Church, this past Sunday and next, place HOPE squarely in the hands of ordinary people, who become prophets-- people chosen to carry the message not because they were saints or had fancy positions, or were educated or good with words, but because they came from the field, like us, and were, in full appreciation of who they were, given FIRE:
“I am sending you,” the reading says, “to those who have rebelled against me… Hard of face and obstinate are they to whom I am sending you. …And whether they heed or resist… they shall know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 2, 2-5)Es tiempo de hablar. It’s time to speak-- with evangelical authority. THESE - CRUCIFIXIONS - ARE - OVER. We are the CHURCH, COMING from where people live and hurt and ask for help and PRAY. St. Catherine of Siena assures us, “If we are what we should be, we will set the whole world ablaze!”
A final story. During WWII, a French woman and her husband hid Jewish refugees in their home. The local Mayor told her she was foolish to take such a risk. Why he asked, was she doing it? “I am doing it,” she answered, “because the time is now and I am here.” What brilliant simplicity, and what guts. For Manuel and so many like him, for ALL those who sent us, the time is now, and we are here.
Let us make a sacrament of this present moment.