Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Lampedusa & Arizona

11-03-2013Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Immigration is not just a hot button issue in the US but also in Europe. On Oct. 13 a boat filled with over 500 North Africans trying to immigrant to Europe sunk, killing over 300 people near the Italian island of Lampedusa (a sort of Italian version of Ellis Island). This horrific tragedy sparked lots of debate about the immigration challenges that the EU faces. The arguments for and against were almost identical to the arguments we hear in the US. The deaths near Lampedusa (caused by harsh weather) could easily have been the deaths of those crossing the border in Arizona.

Recently Sheriff Joe announced that he was placing white crosses at the places in Maricopa County where immigrants perished. I'm not sure what his motivation is but I think it a good way to visually remind us all of the humanitarian disaster that has become our immigration policy. Pope Francis likewise pointed out the plight of migrants when he visited the island of Lampedusa to pray for migrants living and dead and strongly denounced their human traffickers.

What it calls to mind is that the mass migration of people from underdeveloped countries and politically hostile governments is not going away anytime soon. At this point many of the proposed solutions are fitted to comport with political and partisan agendas that almost guarantees a deeper rift in our country. And if applied these solutions might temporarily fix things or might even make things worse. By worse I mean the degree of human suffering that is caused by a shortsighted immigration policy.

Our Immigration Policy debate has unfortunately been reduced to a political football. Years ago the Republicans had a chance to fix the problem and take it off the table when President Bush put forward a comprehensive immigration plan. Yet even though his own party was in control they basically spit on the plan and that has come back to bite them again and again. For their part the Democrats have no need to fix the problem, actually they do better when the problem remains in play because then they can look like the ones who really care, blame the other party and garner support. And so far it works.

So what are the solutions? In the EU when a migrant arrives in a European country that country is required to process them, grant them residency, health care and shelter. This of course makes the EU an attractive place for people from poorer and underdeveloped countries to migrate to. It also puts tremendous strain on the resources of many EU nations. Yet at the same time it is a more orderly and humane way to treat migrants.
Yet even though the US does not have the same process as the EU we still are also a magnet that draws many people from poorer and underdeveloped nations. In both cases people are willing to make an often dangerous journey, a journey that often separates them from their families permanently to enjoy the life or part of the life that we have become accustomed to living.

Obviously any immigration reform has to take into account the fact that as long as so many nations remain underdeveloped, poor and politically hostile, people will try to cross borders to try to get to a better life. Merely slamming the door shut will not stop that from happening nor can we absolve ourselves of helping change the conditions that generate so much mass migration. Countries like the US and those of the EU will remain attractive places for people to come no matter what immigration benefits are given or not given.

Part of the solution is a willingness to accept the fact that whatever the solution it will not please everyone. Which means we have to stop seeing the problem/solution through the lens of a political agenda and begin seeing it more as a human problem that is affecting large portions of human beings.

At Lampedusa Pope Francis called for a "reawakening of consciences" to counter the "indifference" shown to migrants and he reminded all us: "we have lost a sense of brotherly responsibility". Part of that responsibility is looking beyond our own borders and seeing how we can help others to live within their own borders, which means helping to make their lands and nations an attractive place where they can flourish as we do.

Since it is too much to expect that our elected leaders will act like responsible, thoughtful adults who will put aside partisan differences and do the right thing, we should remember that the first canonized saint from the US is St. Frances Cabrini, patron of immigrants. Pope Leo XII sent her to America to take care of the immigrants arriving en mass in the early 20th century. As a result those immigrants built a strong nation and their children and grandchildren are well integrated into American society. It seems once again America needs a new Mother Cabrini to show us the Christian way, not the political way, to make immigration a blessing for our society. St. Frances Cabrini, pray for us!

Love, Fr. John B