Welcoming our Brothers and Sisters Among Us;
Immigrants: Their Gifts and Challenges
Diocese of Cleveland
June 26, 2002
My thanks to Bishop Pilla, Tom Mullins, and the others associated with Catholic Charities for inviting me to be here today. It is a real pleasure to be with you. This is bit like a homecoming for me; I was born and raised in Columbus and almost 30 years ago I began working with refugees and for the Church in Columbus.
Between 1975 and 1980, I was part of something called the Ohio Refugee Task Force, and in that capacity had occasion to work with Diane Sherban and many other fine people in the Cleveland diocese.
Fortunately, I have been able to maintain my association with the Cleveland diocese over the years. The organization I am currently working with has a long and rich history working with the folks here in Cleveland in the resettlement of refugees.
Whenever I am going to be meeting with people in dioceses where my office is placing refugees for resettlement, I ask staff to give me a brief write up about the program. The staff who relate to Cleveland gave me a report that was a bit out-of-the-ordinary and particularly glowing. I want to read a passage.
Cleveland is an excellent place for refugees and immigrants to begin their new lives. Cleveland’s economy has remained fairly steady through the national recession, due to its varied entry-level employment opportunities and diverse economic base. Cleveland has world-renown healthcare systems, affordable housing and a relatively low cost of living. The people of Cleveland have been welcoming and friendly toward newcomers. Cleveland’s numerous ethnic neighborhoods, parishes, museums, and festivals create a diverse and vibrant cultural life where almost any group can feel comfortable and everyone can have a good time.Reads a bit like a travel brochure, doesn’t it? I don’t know how accurate a portrayal this is of your reality, but if it were even half correct, I’d say that the people of Cleveland have seen the future, and you’ve embraced it.
Economic globalization; the ease of global travel and communications; the extent of civil strife and economic deprivation in too many places in our world; and the human quest for a better life are all forces that make migration, and especially immigration to the U.S., a reality that can’t be ignored. I am grateful that you all here in this room have the foresight to recognize this and for taking time from your busy schedules to spend thinking about the implications of immigration and how your community and our nation should be responding.
Tom asked me to help provide some context for your discussions today and to frame some of the issues confronting our nation as we deal with the topic of immigration. In an attempt to accomplish this, I have organized my remarks into five parts:
(1) An overview of some facts and figures about immigration to the U.S;
(2) Take a look at who some of the immigrants are and current public policies toward them;
(3) A discussion of public opinion toward immigrants and immigration;
(4) Identify some major public policy issues that require our attention; and
(5) Offer some observations and suggestions for your consideration.
Part 1: The Facts and Figures on Immigration
Listening to some in the public policy debate over immigration, one might assume that total immigration to the U.S. in recent years is at unprecedented levels. The restrictionists would also have us believe that, in fact, immigrants are overwhelming us. Have you read Pat Buchanan’s book? The title says it all: The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. He and others would have us believe that immigration is out of control and fast leading us to what Buchanan calls a “Third World America.”
However, a more objective look at the facts and a reasoned analysis of the implications of immigration trends point us in a different direction. Yes, it is true that since 1965, when our immigration laws got rid of the severe restrictions against immigration from non-European countries, the demographics of immigration have changed dramatically.
And, yes, at the turn of the 21st century the gross numbers of immigrants arriving to our shores exceeded the last great wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1910, nearly 9.5 million immigrants arrived in the U.S. Between 1990 and 2000, there were almost 11 million immigrants.
However, these numbers must be put into perspective. Let’s take a closer look...
Chart #1: Foreign-Born Residents as a Proportion of the Total U.S. Population
According to U.S. census data, at the peak of what many referred to as the “first great wave” of immigration to the U.S. (in 1910), the foreign-born population was almost 14 million or about 15% of the total U.S. population.
The 2000 census tells us that the foreign-born population now stands at almost 28.5 million, but this represents only about 10% of the total U.S. population.
Consider, as well, immigration in the context of the rate of population growth. The total U.S. population grew by more than 200% between 1910 and 2000, while the foreign-born population was about 100% higher in 2000 than it was in 1910.
So, one could legitimately make the case that today we are less a nation of immigrants than we were 100 years ago.
Let’s break these numbers down a bit further by looking at immigration during the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available -- 2000.
Chart #2: Immigration to the U.S. -- The Numbers (“Permanent Immigrants”)
First we’ll look at the categories of immigrants who generally come into the country with the intention to remain, at least for a while. Here we see that in 2000, nearly 850,000 people immigrated to the U.S. using legal means. In other words, they obtained visas of one type or another.
This figure is broken down as follows:
- Almost 350,000 people who are considered by our immigration law to be “immediate relatives” of U.S. citizens. “Immediate relatives” are defined as spouses, children under 21, and parents of U.S. citizens.
- Some 235,000 people obtained visas by virtue of their relationship with a U.S. citizen or legal resident. This group includes, for instance, children and spouses of “permanent resident aliens,” and siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens.
- Just over 100,000 people who were sponsored by employers who certified to the government that the immigrant would be filling jobs for which labor is in short supply and/or for which the immigrants possess special skills not available in the local labor pool.
- Almost 70,000 persons were admitted as refugees; meaning that they met the definition of having fled their homelands due to persecution. Refugees enjoy a special status in the international community and U.S. admits some number of refugees each year.
- Then there are about 50,000 people who won a visa through a “visa lottery.” One of the qualifications for being in this lottery is to be from a country from which visas have been underrepresented through normal immigration visa processes.
- To round out the numbers, almost 40,000 others obtained other types of visas. For instance, some of these people got visas by investing a substantial sum of money in the U.S.; others obtained a visa to perform certain religious ministries; still others were granted political asylum.
Another group to include in this “permanent immigrant” category are the people who are trafficked into the U.S. The U.S. State Department tells us that 50,000 women and children are trafficked into this country each year.
So, we come to about a million point two (1.2 million) “permanent immigrants” in 2000.
Chart #3: “Temporary Immigrants”
In addition to the immigrants who arrived with the intention or hope of remaining indefinitely in the U.S., in 2000 there were 27.5 million “temporary immigrants.” A half a million foreign students. 4 million business travelers. And, 23 million tourists.
Up to now, we’ve look at the numbers of people coming in. What the immigration restrictionists will not tell you is that people leave the country each year to take up indefinite residency elsewhere.
Chart #4: Emigration and Deportation from the U.S.
Though accurate numbers are impossible to obtain, some demographers estimate that about 287,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents emigrated from the U.S. in 2000.
Additionally, the Immigration and Naturalization Service deported 175,000 people in 2000.
While researching this data immigration, I looked at some census data for Cleveland that you might be interested in.
Chart #5: Demographics
Here we see the Diocese of Cleveland’s total population according to the 2000 census in relation to the total U.S. population.
Compare these figures to the 1990 data. Interestingly, Cleveland’s population growth lags behind the growth in the total U.S. population by a considerable margin.
Next you see the breakout according to several major race and ethnic categories.
Interestingly, though your Hispanic population here in Cleveland is well below the national average, it has grown nearly 50% during the past decade. The U.S. growth in Hispanics during this same period was 58%.
Part 2: Who Are Today’s Immigrants and How are They Being Welcomed?
I’d like to turn now to the question, “who are the immigrants?” There’s not enough time this morning to cover every immigrant group or to go into much depth, so I’ll look briefly at some immigrant groups that I believe need more of our attention.
Chart #6: Undocumented Immigrants
The U.S. Census says that there are approximately 8 million undocumented people in this country today. Nearly 5.5 million of them are working in the U.S. And, most have been in the U.S. for at least several years and have been building equities in their local community.
They pay taxes and otherwise participate in the local economy. John Simons, writing in Fortune Magazine, estimates that undocumented workers contributed more than $200 billion dollars to the U.S. economy in 2001.
Many economists proclaim that were it not for these workers our economy would be seriously damaged. Even the Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Alan Greenspan, has persistently called attention to the important contributions to our economy made by the undocumented and has called for more responsive immigration policies.
Yet, undocumented workers are particularly vulnerable. They are subject to exploitation and abuse at the hands of unscrupulous employers who use the fear of deportation as weapon to pay workers illegally low wages and subject them to hazardous working conditions. And, as for workplace safety, the U.S. Labor Department found that Hispanic workers suffered an on-the-job death rate of 20% higher than that of whites and blacks.
Migrant Farm Workers
It is difficult to imagine a more disadvantage segment of the labor force in this country than the migrant farm workers.
Chart #7: Migrant Farm Workers
There are 2.5 million farm workers in the U.S., 81% of whom are foreign-born. 56% of all farm workers are “migrant farm workers.” And, just over half (52%) of all farm workers are undocumented.
The U.S. Labor Department reported recently that even with the strong economy during the 1990’s, which led to greater and increasingly widespread prosperity, farmworker wages have actually lost ground relative to workers in other industries. In fact, in the past ten years, farmworker wages have increased by 18%, while the wages of non-farm workers increased by 32%, almost twice that of farmworkers. Adjusted for inflation, farmworkers’ purchasing power actually fell during the past decade by 11 %.
Moreover, the earnings of farmworkers are well below the poverty level. The average farmworker earns $7,500 per year and a farmworker family earns an average of $10,000 per year.
The living and working conditions of many farm workers are well below standards. It is not unusual to find migrant farm workers living in shacks with no running water or plumbing, or even electricity.
A good number of farm workers work in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, with injuries and even death attributed to hazardous machinery and the presence of pesticides.
This past February, the Bishops of Ohio published an excellent statement titled, God’s Welcoming Presence: A Call to Stand in Solidarity With Ohio’s Immigrants. The Bishops’ message contains a number of practical recommendations for public officials to pursue on behalf of immigrant workers. And, I encourage you in this room to continue your efforts in getting support from your government officials for implementing these recommendations.
For a nation and a people who pride ourselves on our commitment to human rights and justice before the law, the plight of low-income immigrant workers should offend our sense of justice. In the world’s richest nation, immigrant workers simply should not suffer from impoverishing wages, dangerous working conditions and abusive employers.
The need for change goes beyond improving wages and working conditions, enforcing labor standards, and respecting the right to organize. We need to recognize that immigrant laborers personify our nation’s core values: patriotism, hard work, strong families, and an effort to better one’s condition.
By allowing the current conditions to persist, we dishonor these values. By treating immigrant workers with dignity and respect, we would be building a better future for the laborers and our nation.
Fifty years ago the international community established protocols for dealing with the world’s refugees – people fleeing persecution in their home countries – and created within the UN an office called the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The UNHCR is responsible, first and foremost, with protecting refugees and ensuring life-sustaining aid. The UNHCR also has the mandate for pursuing durable solutions on behalf of the refugees.
Last week, on June 20, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, commonly referred to as the UNHCR, celebrated World Refugee Day.
In Washington, there were a number of events to mark Refugee Day, including one held at Union Station, Washington(s historic train station. There Secretary of State Colin Powell and the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, the actress Angelina Jolie, spoke about the importance of protecting refugees and, in particular, the importance of U.S. leadership in responding to the needs of refugees.
Powell used the occasion to quote President Bush as saying, (today I affirm our commitment to protect and assist refugees, promoting their right to seek asylum and provide opportunities for their resettlement.( The president also said (I am proud that we are the largest donor to the UNHCR and the world(s leader in accepting refugees for resettlement.(
The Secretary of State made the comment that (the Bush administration will not permit the attacks of September 11th and the continuing threat of terrorism to shake our nation(s commitment to refugees.( He went on to say that, (we will continue to be the world(s leader in refugee resettlement.(
These are pretty clear and welcomed statements of commitment, don(t you think? But, let(s scratch the surface a bit and look at what(s going on with regard to U.S. response to refugees.
First, some context...
Chart #8: Refugees
The UNHCR tells us that there are 22 million people under its care throughout the world. These are refugees and some of the so-called (internally displaced(. Of that number, 18 million are women and children.
Being under UNHCR(s care means that these refugees and displaced persons are to be protected and their basic survival needs met. Also, when the UNHCR determines that a person is a refugee and needs the care and response of the international community, it has responsibility for pursuing on the refugees( behalf durable solutions.
There are three preferred durable solutions:
- return to one(s homeland when conditions allow for a safe return;
- settlement within the country of asylum, if the government offers this opportunity and provides assurances that the refugee will enjoy the rights and responsibilities of the native population; and
- resettlement to a third country, such as to the U.S.
Though there were some very encouraging indicators from the Bush administration prior to September 11 that refugee admissions would gradually increase, there has been a dramatic drop in admissions this year.
Though the President has authorized the admission of 70,000 refugees for FY2002, so far there have been only about 16,000. At this pace, we will be lucky to see 40,000 to 45,000 refugees admitted this year.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees says that nearly 65,000 people sought asylum in the United States last year. Like refugees, asylum seekers have fled persecution, but they find their way to the United States, then request asylum.
How does our government deal with these people? Many of those who arrived last year were put in jail, even as the government(s own officials acknowledged that the asylum seekers they were detaining had what is referred to as “a credible fear” of persecution, which is the primary grounds for granting a person asylum in our country.
Let(s take a case in point -- the Haitian asylum seekers who have escaped Haiti by boat and have arrived recently to the shores of South Florida. Many of these people have stated that they left Haiti because they feared persecution in the form of torture, abductions, rape, and imprisonment. Since March, the U.S. government has kept in prison more than 200 Haitian asylum seekers, most of whom are women and children.
What is the explanation for jailing asylum seekers? The immigration service has said that the Haitian asylum seekers are being kept in jail in order to deter others back in Haiti from making the attempt to escape that country and seek asylum here.
Earlier this month a delegation of congressional and community leaders from South Florida visited some of the prisons where the asylum seekers are detained to look into their condition and to understand better the current government policy toward the Haitian asylum seekers. One of the women the group spoke with had been in jail since last November and asked,
what kind of crime did I commit to be locked up for so long? Ever since I was a little girl, she said, I have been told about how the United States was a country of immigrants and refugees and that it was a leader in human rights. I faced the dangers of crossing the sea in a small boat to escape the horrors I faced in Haiti, because I thought I would be welcomed here and given a chance to live in freedom. What did I do wrong to make your government treat me this way?A CEO of a major firm in Miami, who was a member of the delegation, said afterwards that he was (outraged and embarrassed( over the government(s policies toward the asylum seekers. The chairman of the Miami Chamber of Commerce said after his visit with some of the women and children in detention, (the despair, discrimination, and injustice was evident ...the business community will mount a groundswell of support and will not let this policy stand.(
Perhaps when considering how our government ought to be responding to refugees and asylum seekers, we should listen to some of Ohio’s leaders. Senator DeWine, who has been a good ally on a number of refugee policies, had this to say:
One of the great traditions of this country is that we have been a beacon of hope, and of light, as Ronald Reagan would say. We have been a country where people could come when they were persecuted. If you look at our history and our immigration policies, our best days – our best days – have been when we reached out and said, “yes, we are this country that is different.” The few times in our history when we have turned our back on people who are persecuted... we have lived to regret it.When he was president of the bishops’ Conference in the late 90’s, Bishop Pilla said that refugees and asylum seekers have a “particular social moral standing” and “require special consideration and response from our government.” Speaking of a rather mean spirited, anti-immigrant law passed in 1996, Bishop Pilla said, “Refugees and asylum seekers, those fleeing persecution and possible death in search of a safe haven in the U.S., risk the real possibility of being returned immediately to their oppressors as a consequence of this legislation.” He went on to say, “This is simply unacceptable, especially given our traditions in this country as a nation founded by refugees for refugees.”
Victims of Human Trafficking
140 years ago, slavery was outlawed in this country. Would it surprise you, then, to learn that the slave trade is alive and active in the U.S. and around the world?
In fact, the trafficking in humans is now more lucrative than is the trafficking in arms. It is a growing and global phenomenon; with perhaps as many as 4 million people trafficked around the world each year.
The U.S. government estimates that 50,000 women and children are trafficked into our country each year. These victims of trafficking come from Southeast and South Asia, Latin America, Africa, and from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as from the New Independent States.
Let me give you a couple of recent examples of how despicable a crime this slave trade is.
It was discovered recently that a Korean garment manufacturer trafficked more than 200 young, mostly rural women from Vietnam to a factory he owned in America Samoa. He lured these young women with the promise of jobs paying good wages and offering excellent fringe benefits.
As it turns out, once in Samoa, they were held in captivity and forced to work in deplorable conditions. They were provided food in quantities and quality that was barely at subsistence
Levels and denied wages. Many of them were physically abused.
Over a period of months, several of the women escaped captivity and were rescued by some Catholic nuns in the community. Eventually, the factory owner was arrested, imprisoned, and prosecuted, based on the testimony of his victims.
Closer to home, this past April government law enforcement agencies raided an organized crime syndicate involving illegal aliens engaged in prostitution in the Northeastern part of the country. Among those apprehended were four young girls from Mexico, who had been lured to the U.S. with promises of immigration visas and jobs as housekeepers, but who instead were forced into prostitution and kept in virtual slavery. When discovered the girls had marks on their wrists from the chains that bound them during the days to the radiators in their rooms.
These girls were between the ages of 14 and 16 when U.S. authorities discovered them. They had been in the country and barely surviving under these conditions for two years!
Part 3: Public Opinion Toward Immigration and Immigrants
I will turn now to public opinion toward immigration and immigrants.
First, let’s look at where we were prior to September 11 in terms of public attitudes toward immigration and immigrants, and where we stand now.
The findings of a poll conducted in early 2001, before the terrorist attacks, indicated that Americans had an increasingly favorable view of immigration. A report published by the Pew Research Center stated “in recent years attitudes toward immigrants -- particularly regarding their economic impact -- have undergone a remarkable turnaround.”
Seven years earlier, in 1994, 63% of the public saw immigrants as “an economic drain on the country.” By September 2000, the number of Americans holding an unfavorable view of immigrants had dropped to just 38%.
In a Gallop poll conducted in September 2000, 41% of those polled thought that the levels of immigration should be kept at current levels. When Gallop polled Americans on this same question in 1993 and again in 1995, nearly 2/3 of the respondents wanted to see immigration levels decreased.
In yet another poll conducted in December 2001, several months after 9/11, in answer to the question, “is immigration good for the country?” 59% said “yes.”
The majority of the respondents to this poll believed that immigrants bring to this country values that are important to Americans -- family; work ethic; and determination.
In fact, the poll indicated that what Americans believe is most important about immigrants is that they accept “American values” and that they take steps to become U.S. citizens. They also cared about immigrants learning English.
As you would expect, this post-9/11 poll found Americans more concerned about their safety. They feel under threat from people from other lands and, therefore, are willing to forego traditional civil liberties.
45% of the respondents said that we need to suspend some civil liberties in order to protect ourselves. 57% supported the profiling of Arabs and Muslims.
According to the polls, the majority of Americans equate “illegal immigrants” with “law breakers.” And, the majority opinion is that they ought to be deported; only 18% thought the solution should be to make them legal.
Interestingly, this poll found that 73% of Americans favored immigration based on family reunification.
In a disturbing change in public attitudes, when asked to respond to the statement, “we should stop letting in as many refugees and asylum seekers,” half of the respondents agreed. Historically, Americans viewed refugees and asylum seekers with more sympathy than “economic migrants.”
Why Pay Attention to Polls?
Why concern ourselves with polling information? We are not politicians. We don’t need to study poll results to determine positions that will win favor with the majority. For us, the value of polling is to see how best to frame the debate and effectively influence public attitudes.
So, what do we learn from these polls, in terms of shaping our advocacy messages?
- We need to acknowledge that improvements can be made in the way our government processes and monitors visa issuance. We cannot simply sit back and take shots at the bad policies being made; we have to be proactive and suggest changes that will be effective, while not harming immigrants.
In other words, we advocates need to be seen as FOR responsible immigration policies.
(Universities should be expected to verify that those on student visas actually enroll and participate.)
- We also need to stress the need to expand opportunities for prospective immigrants to pursue legal means of admissions, especially through the expansion of family-based visas.
Here we can appeal to Americans’ support for family reunification and their concern that entry to this country be through “legal” means. We make the case that the number of family visas should be increased and the backlog of people waiting as long as 20 years for a visa to joining U.S. relatives be eliminated.
- We need to publicize the values that immigrants bring with them. (Whenever possible, we should personalize the immigrant story.)
- And, we must emphasize the desire of most immigrants to become productive and full members of our society. We should point to the increases in immigrants’ pursuit of citizenship.
When Californians turned on their TV news on the night before the election, they saw thousands of protesters calling for the defeat of Proposition 187. The problem was that the protesters were waving thousands of Mexican flags! Talk about unintended effects!
Some political analysts point to that rally as having had a devastating effect on efforts to defeat the initiative.
Today, less than a year away from the 9/11 attacks, I believe public attitudes are better than I would have expected.
Making the Case for Immigrants Being Good for Our Country
From a purely economic standpoint, a strong case can be made for the value of immigration. Aside from the fact that our economy is fueled by immigrant labor, we can point to significant monetary contributions of immigrants. Over their lifetime in the U.S., immigrants contribute greater than $80,000 per person more than they receive in the form of public benefits.
Chart #11: Economic Contributions of Immigrants
A study conducted by the Cato Institute found that in 1997, immigrants paid $162 billion in taxes to federal, state, and local governments. Moreover, given that most immigrants are younger than the norm U.S. population, the total net benefit (taxes paid over benefits received) to the Social Security system in today’s dollars will be nearly $500 billion over the next 20 years. To put it another way, immigrants provide an essential element of our social security tax base as a greater proportion of the U.S. population ages.
How about immigrants and small businesses? It has long been the tradition in this country for immigrants to be the ones who take the risks in pursuing small business enterprise. Listen to this: between 1988 and 1998, the number of small businesses in the U.S. rose by 4%. The number of white Americans starting small business during this period rose just over one percent. So, where did the increase in small businesses come? “Self-employed” Asians increased by more than 56% and Hispanics by 30%. In 1997, Asian-owned businesses generated $275 billion in revenue and employed almost 2 million people; Hispanic-owned businesses generated $184 billion and employed about 1.5 million people.
A full one-third of the high-tech engineers and scientists driving innovation in that industry are immigrants.
Historical Attitudes Toward Immigrants
If you look at Americans’ attitudes historically toward immigration, you find ambivalence and periodic spikes in anti-immigrant sentiment.
Americans begin viewing immigration as a bad thing when the economy is in a downturn, unemployment is high, or when there is a national crisis. Remember the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese decent during World War II? Likewise, when Americans perceive immigrants are not adapting to the American way of life and not learning English, they tend toward anti-immigrant sentiments.
Here’s something I bet you didn’t learn in your grade school history lessons. Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was an outspoken critic of German immigration to this country? He felt that the Germans who were immigrating at the end of the 18th century and into the 19th century were not assimilating into American culture, which was predominately English at the time. In fact, he voiced fears that the German language would become the dominant language in the United States if restrictions were not imposed on German immigration.
Speaking of integration…
You know what the three most significant indicators of integration are?
(1) language acquisition
I trace my heritage to intermarriage between German and English ancestors, so Ben should be proud.
More recently, from 1993 through 1996, anti-immigration sentiment was heightened, largely for two reasons: (1) economic recession and (2) the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. These attitudes culminated in some pretty mean-spirited, anti-immigrant laws passed in 1996.
Things were so bad during this period that during his trip to the United States in 1995, Pope John Paul was compelled to say, and I quote:
Is present-day America becoming less sensitive, less caring toward the poor, the weak, the stranger, the needy? It must not! Today, as before, the United States is called to be a hospitable society, a welcoming culture. If America were to turn in on itself, would this not be the beginning of the end of what constitutes the very essence of the “American experience?Anti-Immigration Voices Growing
Now, while I think public attitudes could have been worse in this post-9/11 period, I don’t want to suggest that we are out of the woods.
The immigration restrictionists have become very vocal and persuasive in the aftermath of 9/11. Consider, for example, that prior to September 11, there were only 14 members of the Immigration Reform Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. Today, there are more than 60 members, most of whom espouse restrictionist positions on immigration.
In Virginia, a local movement called Numbers USA -- an anti-immigration group -- claims its membership rose from 5,000 to 30,000 in the weeks following the terrorist attacks.
Then there’s Pat Buchanan’s book, The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. Even with its extremist positions, the book shot to the top ten spot of the New York Times best sellers list.
The Catholic Response
I am convinced that things could be worse, because I’ve seen what folks in the Catholic community and elsewhere have done to counter the anti-immigrant sentiment immediately following the 9/11 attacks.
Of course, the bishops spoke out publicly on a number of occasions, both nationally and locally, pointing out the need to distinguish between the terrorists and those of the Islamic faith and people of Arab heritage.
We also learned from a series of conference calls with diocesan resettlement programs around the country last October that they were proactively involved in initiatives designed to mitigate the backlash against immigrants generally, and against Muslims and Arabs, in particular.
The dioceses were working the media to plant positive human-interest stories. The immigrant communities were mobilized in efforts to collect money and goods for the victims of the terrorist attacks and their surviving relatives. And, many dioceses conducted public education efforts, targeting employers, landlords, and others in the community.
Then there was one of my favorites...a community of nuns in Iowa created billboard advertisements depicting favorable images of immigrants.
Our public leaders, too, have been helpful in creating attitudes that are more favorable. Immediately following the attacks, President Bush and other high-ranking members of the administration appealed to Americans to avoid scapegoating immigrants.
In an editorial penned by Senators Kennedy (a democrat) and Brownback (a republican) several months after the attacks, they said
As the nation tries to strengthen its laws to keep terrorists out, we must never forget that it faces this challenge as a nation of immigrants. Immigration is a central part of our heritage and history. It is essential to who we are.
Part 4: Public Policies Requiring Our Attention
I’ll now move to a discussion of some of the public policies that are particularly pressing.
Under the rubric of “homeland security”, our government has been pursuing some troubling policies toward immigrants and additional proposals are now on the table that requires scrutiny.
We have seen racial profiling against Muslims and Arabs. We see the refugee admissions program brought to a virtual halt due to expanded security measures. Border enforcement has been greatly expanded, with some calling for the use of the military to secure our borders. Some states are making it increasingly difficult for immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses. Government prosecutors are holding immigrants in jail without charges on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activities.
And, just in the past couple of weeks the President announced his desire to move the Immigration and Naturalization Service into the new Department of Homeland Security.
Certainly, more can and must be done to protect Americans from terrorists. But, are these the ways to do it?
I am particularly concerned about the proposal to put our country’s immigration service into the Homeland Security Department. What kind of culture will evolve? How will such a government department, with its preoccupation with combating terrorists, approach immigration and immigrants, especially prospective immigrants?
Just prior to 9/11, the notion of “regularizing” the status of many of the undocumented in our country was gaining support.
Not only did we have the presidents of Mexico and the United States treating this as a high priority public policy objective, but we had a rather broad coalition of supporters, ranging from unions to businesses, and Republicans to Democrats.
Prior to 9/11, more and more people were beginning to understand the importance of immigrant labor to fuel our economic development. And, there was a growing segment of Americans who felt that if we were going to exploit people’s labor (to put food on our tables, build our homes, and provide us services and conveniences), we should be willing to allow these people to enjoy the benefits of full participation in our society.
Prior to 9/11, we were working with a number of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and folks in the Administration to craft legislation that would create opportunities for the undocumented to legalize their status.
Now, in the wake of 9/11, though the Administration continues to speak in terms of a new approach to migration across the U.S.-Mexico border, the notion of “regularizing” the undocumented here in this country, which was part of the dialogue before, is not now heard publicly.
Also, the restrictionists have found new legs in the post-9/11 era. They have been very effectively framing the public discourse on legalization to serve their purposes. They are spinning the story line in a way the equates the undocumented with “law breakers.”
And they are intentionally blurring the line between those who come to be reunited with family and to seek jobs with those who enter our country to do harm.
Getting Legalization Back on the Table
The bishops are convinced that legalization is an appropriate public policy and is the most responsive to the needs of the undocumented.
Let me mention an important initiative being pursued by the bishops that will, hopefully, have a positive impact on the public debate on legalization.
Border Enforcement Policies
This month an average of one person per day has died trying to cross the border between the United States and Mexico. One of those who died was an 11-year-old child.
In 1994, the U.S. border patrol changed its border enforcement tactics, deploying increasing numbers of agents to seal off border crossings near the larger population centers in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. Consequently, the migrants have been finding crossing points in very remote and dangerous territory, including the desert and mountainous region of Southwest Arizona. Temperatures in that region can quickly go from triple digit heat during the day to extreme cold at night.
In the past 8 years, about 2,000 migrants are known to have perished trying to make the border crossing. This makes the U.S.-Mexico border the most violent border between two peaceful countries in the world.
Consider this: The number of people who died trying to cross the Berlin Wall during the 28 years (1961 – 1989) that it was in place was 100.
(Keep in mind that the East German border guards had instructions to shoot anyone trying to escape that country over the wall.)
Though protecting our nation’s borders is a legitimate responsibility of the government, we must insist that more humane policies and tactics be employed to protect the lives and dignity of the migrants.
Another public policy initiative affected by 9/11 involves the admissions of refugees for resettlement.
Prior to 9/11, there were a number of positive and even unprecedented developments affecting refugee admissions.
For the first time ever in the history of the U.S. refugee program, the Administration announced in late August 2001 (prior to 9/11) that it intended to increase refugee admissions by 5,000 per year for the next four years.
This would have reversed the trend of the previous administration, which decreased refugee admissions by almost 50% during its 8 years.
In another unprecedented development, Congress had appropriated more money than the Administration had requested to support U.S. refugee protection efforts in FY2001.
In the wake of September 11, however, refugee admissions were suspended. Admissions are still not up to full force due to extra security provisions. Although the authorized and budgeted level of admissions for this year are 70,000, we will not likely see more than 40,000 refugees arrive.
Now, I will turn to the pastoral statement...
Part 5: Suggestions
- Be a catalyst for change…
How Brightly Is the Torch of Welcome Shining?
You know the book, Roots, written by Alex Haley? The inspiration for the book came when Haley was researching old newspapers in Annapolis and came across a story about a slave ship, the Lord Legionier. The article mentioned the arrival of the ship to the Annapolis harbor and informed the public where and when the slave auction was to be held. It also listed the names of some of the slaves and their origins.
And, so, Haley wrote about the slave Kunta Kinte and his family.
A statue of Kunta Kinte and Alex Haley was recently erected at the Annapolis City Dock. When it was dedicated earlier this month, the organizers called the statute “a symbolic Ellis Island for African Americans; a symbol for the beginning of their story in America.”
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, of course, other immigrants had Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty...very powerful symbols of welcome and beginning anew in a new land.
As I thought about the dedication of the Kunta Kinte memorial, I reflected on the importance of symbols in our lives, especially symbols that commemorate significant junctures and milestones.
The symbolism of Ellis Island was also one of freedom and opportunity. Certainly not what the African slaves experienced.
So, what of today’s immigrants? What are the symbols for today’s immigrants?
They certainly do not arrive via the New York Harbor, so do not have the opportunity to pass under Lady Liberty. Today they arrive by rafts, cargo containers, they trek across desolate deadly deserts, and the lucky ones arrive at our airports.
Another story, then I’ll conclude.
NY -- Statue of Liberty
today arriving via plane;
crossing desolate and dangerous border regions;
My prayer is that you continue to hold up high the torch of welcome and the light of hope.
May you have the strength to persevere in the challenges you face every day in your critical ministries.
And, may you be successful in motivating others to reach out to the newcomers -- to welcome the stranger, so that they be strangers no longer!