Sign Says, 'No Trespassing' at the Border, 'Help Wanted' at the Workplace

By McBrien, Richard P. | National Catholic Reporter, November 16, 2007 | Go to article overview

Sign Says, 'No Trespassing' at the Border, 'Help Wanted' at the Workplace


McBrien, Richard P., National Catholic Reporter


One of the most difficult issues for U.S. politicians, and especially presidential candidates, to face nowadays is that of immigration reform. One common estimate is that there are at least 12 million immigrants who are in the United States illegally, without proper documentation. Those on the conservative side of the political spectrum tend to favor stronger enforcement. The more extreme among them believe that a longer and higher wall is the answer, while others believe that the 12 million must somehow be rounded up and deported. They do not say how this can be done.

Those on the liberal and/or moderate side of the political spectrum express their appreciation for the contributions of immigrants, both those who entered the country legally and those who did not. The politicians among them propose some form of legal accommodation, involving stiff penalties for the latter group, but not deportation. Those on the right dismiss this as "amnesty."

The leading presidential candidate for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, found herself caught in the middle at the end of the debate telecast late last month from Drexel University in Philadelphia.

She was accused of giving two different answers to questions about New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposal that undocumented immigrants be given driver's licenses. Talk show conservatives had a field day excoriating her debate performance as a "debacle." Sen. Clinton later clarified her position as favorable to the plan.

This column, however, is not interested in the political dimensions of the issue, regardless of their importance. Immigration is also a moral problem, which Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and others have pointed out. In early October at an immigration forum sponsored by the University of Notre Dame, Cardinal Mahony insisted that the church has to speak out on the immigration issue because of the Gospel mandate, with strong roots in the Old Testament, to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25: 31-46).

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"To the church," he said at Notre Dame, "the immigration issue is primarily a humanitarian one. Because it impacts the well-being of millions of human beings, it has moral implications and must be viewed through a moral lens."

The overwhelming majority of those who cross the nation's borders illegally do so, he said, because they "simply want to work, and they work hard and contribute to the American economy. …

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