Bishop's Interview: Immigrants deserve justice and dignity, too
Editor: Bishop Vásquez you were recently elected chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration. What does this position entail?
Bishop Vásquez: First of all, I was very surprised that I was nominated for this position, which came open when Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles was elected as Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His promotion to that position left vacant the chairman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, and I was honored that my brother bishops expressed such confidence in me to do this work. I pray to God that I am able to do it well.
This position is important because this particular USCCB committee interfaces with the government administration here in the U.S. to deal with and address the issues of migration and refugee settlement. The purpose of the committee is also to express to our government leaders what the church teaches about immigration. The church holds immigration issues as a high priority of concern, and we want to make sure the administration understands why justice for immigrants is a critical part of Catholic social teaching.
We believe in the God-given dignity of every human person. Every person — no matter who they are or where they are from –– is a child of God. Whether they are refugees trying to escape their country because of violence or whether they are seeking asylum, we want to make sure that we as bishops are advocating for their just treatment. Immigrants deserve to be treated justly, and above all, with dignity.
In interfacing with the government, this committee is also developing position papers. We give congressional testimony and we advocate for just treatment for those who are already here even if they are undocumented. The bishops believe that immigration reforms are necessary in order for our nation’s immigration system to respond to the realities of separated families and labor demands that compel people to immigrate to the U.S.
The reality is that our country has 11 million undocumented people and many of them are hidden, many of them are underground, thus they have no voice and the church has a responsibility to be a voice for them. Many immigrants are children who have come here with their parents. They have lived here all their lives and though they might not have the proper documents, we want to make sure that they are treated well. This is their culture; they have learned English. They have been raised in our country, so to force them to go back to their country of origin would be devastating to them.
The church has a responsibility to share our biblical tradition on this issue and to help build bridges between all parties so that an immigration system can be created that is just and that serves the common good, including the legitimate security concerns of our nation.
Editor: Who else serves on the committee?
Bishop Vásquez: Several bishops serve on this committee as well as cardinals who serve as consultants. We also have several lay staff members who help us understand the immigration issues and help us communicate our concerns with the government administration.
Editor: How are the bishops addressing immigration issues with the new administration?
Bishop Vásquez: Since the presidential election, we have been hearing great concern from the immigrant community. Many are frightened and terrified that there will be mass deportation based on the rhetoric that was used during the presidential campaign. To address these fears, the U.S. bishops called for a day of prayer on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Parishes throughout the nation were invited to come together in prayerful support of the immigrants in our country. We continue to pray for our immigrants as well as helping them learn their rights and apply for citizenship and avoid immigration scams.
I, myself, as well as other bishops, have heard from parents whose children are being bullied at school. Children are telling other children that they and their parents are going to be deported. This is happening based on their skin color and their last name. This type of aggressive language is deeply troubling to us as bishops. It is horrible how this type of attitude has filtered into our schools and also into our businesses. Hard-working people are also being threatened because they are immigrants. They are being told that they don’t deserve just wages because they don’t have proper legal documentation. This type of harassment is unacceptable. As I said before, immigrants –– just like you and me –– are children of God and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. As bishops we are not advocating for open borders. We advocate for borders that are secure, but at the same time we want to make sure that those people who are coming across the border are treated justly.
We are trying to communicate with the new administration to let them know of the church’s stance on immigration. We are still uncertain about what the administration intends to do about the immigration issues. Harsh rhetoric was used during the presidential campaign and that concerns us very much. The immigration system in our country has been broken for a very long time and there has been little to no support from either political party for decades. To be able to resolve this situation both parties have to work together to come to a solution and quit using immigration to serve their political agendas.
Editor: How can average Catholics help with the fight for immigration reform?
Bishop Vásquez: I encourage everyone to get knowledgeable about what it is that the church teaches about immigration. The Justice for Immigrants website (www.justiceforimmigrants.org) has excellent information about the U.S. bishops’ migration policies. I encourage everyone to get to know the immigrant population and understand why they have come to the U.S. Many of them are children and women with children escaping violence. They are escaping drug trafficking. They are escaping gangs and violence down in Central America. They do not come here seeking to take our jobs; they come here seeking better lives for themselves and their loved ones. They deserve our concern, our compassion and our prayers.
Editor: What is your prayer for immigrants?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer for immigrants is that they may find welcoming hearts in our people. Immigrants have been a blessing to our country. The great diversity of immigrants has brought innovation and hope. Our country was built and established by immigrants and we need the immigrant population to be defended, protected and integrated so that our country continues to grow stronger.