Santorum, Obama and immigrant families

The Obama administration's proposal to revise federal immigration regulations to keep many thousands of families from being separated is consistent with what the Catholic hierarchy, including Pope Benedict XVI, has long called for. The same can't be said for the approach advocated by the leading Republican presidential candidates - and in particular, Rick Santorum, despite the pro-family, Catholic values he has campaigned on.In an interview with Fox News on Nov. 30, Santorum had this exchange with Brian Kilmeade:

Q: One of the headlines that came out of the last debate was Newt Gingrich coming and saying, you're here for a couple of dozen years, you should be able to stay in this country. We can't be parting a family and be kicking out families, even if they got here illegally. Your stand?

A: Well, look, my grandfather came to this country and left his family -- my father and a couple of other kids -- for five years and had to work here before he earned his citizenship and was able to bring the rest of the family over. These are sacrifices that Americans have made for years and years and years to play by the rules, to do what's right.

If you're in this country legally and you overstay your visa, you get sent home. Even though you may have family here, you have other things. That's why? Because we have rules; we're a country of laws. And if you don't, you know, comply with the law then you pay the consequences of it. And everybody who came here understood what the consequences were.

So yeah, I feel bad. I mean, I don't like to break up families. But you know, the family can go back. We're not sending them to Siberia. We're not sending them to any kind of, you know, difficult -- they're going to Mexico, which is a great country, a nice country and they can go back like every other Mexican wants to come to America and come here legally.

This contrasts with the approach Benedict took on his visit to the United States in 2008. In an interview on the flight over, he told reporters the long-term answer is to improve the economies of impoverished Latin American countries. But, he said, steps must be taken now to resolve "the grave problem of the separation of families. This is truly dangerous for the social, human and moral fabric of these countries. ... In the short term, it's very important above all to help the families. This is the primary objective, to ensure that families are protected, not destroyed. Whatever can be done, must be done."

In a section on immigration, The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says that "the right of reuniting families should be respected and promoted," citing the Holy See's 1983 Charter of the Rights of Human Families, which states that "The families of migrants have the right to the same protection as that accorded other families."Santorum disagrees with the U.S. Catholic bishops on immigration but, for the record, here is what the bishops have said about family unity and immigration law. According to the bishops:

It currently takes years for family members to be reunited through the familybased legal immigration system. This leads to family breakdown and, in some cases, illegal immigration. Changes in familybased immigration should be made to increase the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting times.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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