Christ Child: friend of the immigrant

Friday, 02 December 2016

As Catholics, we have a particular call of care and concern for those who are considered “least among us.” Within this category is found the immigrant, whether documented or undocumented. As our nation undergoes a shift in leadership in the White House, it is fitting to consider our social and political attitude toward the immigrant.

Rhetoric toward the Immigrant during Election. For those who followed the presidential campaign, it comes as no surprise that the rhetoric and messaging of President-elect Trump toward the unauthorized immigrant was problematic. President-elect Trump often spoke about the need for walls and mass deportations of currently unauthorized immigrants. The immigrant community interpreted such words as words of unwelcome and hostility.

Understandably so, President-elect Trump’s victory was quickly followed by the fears and concerns of immigrants. This experience was noted by José Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, in a prayer vigil within days after the election. Archbishop Gomez recognized the worries of children, parents, our own brothers and sisters in Christ. These were fears not based in the imagination—outside the context of objective reality—but responses to the actual words and conduct of a man soon to wield substantial political power.

These types of fears are also shared by our brothers and sisters in Christ who live with us as neighbors here in Nebraska. 

Problem of the Rhetoric. The issue with the type of messaging used during the presidential campaign resides not in the fact that President-elect Trump is trying to propose elements of immigration reform, but rather that his language treats the immigrant as an object, a person-less entity, rather than a subject, a person with a face and name, full of value and dignity. 

Unfortunately, this treatment of the immigrant stems from a broken immigration system fraught with issues that can only be healed through comprehensive reforms. The immigrant is perceived as a problem to be handled—a task, so to speak—instead of a person facing unique situations and difficulties of their own (which often motivate the desire to immigrate). 

Christ as Immigrant. As we enter into the liturgical season of Advent, we are presented with a fitting opportunity to ponder the early aspects of the life of Jesus. In particular, one of the earliest recorded events of our Savior’s infancy concerns the Holy Family’s escape into Egypt. St. Joseph, urged by an angel, flees Bethlehem for Egypt, in order to protect the Christ Child from the coming infanticide of King Herod (Mt. 2:13-15). Christ Himself—“like us in all things but sin”—takes on the experience and status of an immigrant. 

This aspect of Christ’s life provides us a point of departure for our social and political attitude toward the immigrant. Perhaps we can ponder how Christ Himself would handle our broken immigration system. What disposition of the heart, language, and conduct would He use in His approach to the immigrant? How can we conform to such an example?

Immigration Reform as Multi-Faceted. To ponder the life of Christ and how He would deal with our current broken immigration system is not to suggest that there is only one particular solution to the problem. With complex issues like immigration, there may be any number of reasonable solutions.

To begin with, for example, Catholic social teaching is clear that the state has a two-fold duty to protect its borders with reasonable legal enforcements and to welcome the stranger, especially those seeking refuge to better their livelihood. These general principles permit for a wide range of policy solutions, but they are fundamental principles that must be respected and balanced. One cannot focus simply on strict enforcement measures without accounting for the freedom of movement between countries. Similarly, one cannot propose open borders without expecting that justly established laws regulating the flow of immigrants be respected.

As Archbishop Gomez concluded his homily at the prayer vigil shortly after the election: “We need to be people of peace, people of compassion…. Tonight we promise our brothers and sisters who are undocumented—we will never leave you alone. In good times and in bad, we are with you. You are family. We are brothers and sisters.”