Where Catholics stand on immigration

Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago issued a pre-Thanksgiving statement in which he gave thanks for President Obama's decision to defer deportation for about 4.5 million undocumented immigrants. It follows a Nov. 20 statement that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued to welcome the president's decision.

The bishops have long called for immigration reform, particularly for relief from deportations that divide families. If they want the message to get out, they need to do what Archbishop Cupich has done. It's not enough to just issue a statement in Washington; individual bishops need to pick up the cause in their own dioceses.

Poll data from Pew Research Center raises some doubt about how well the bishops' message is getting through to white Catholics. A survey released April 1 found that 56 percent said it was a "good thing" that the number of undocumented immigrants deported in recent years had increased, with 37 percent saying it was a "bad thing." That contrasts sharply with Latino Catholics, of whom 34 percent said it was a "good thing" and 59 percent saw it as a "bad thing." Overall, the nation was divided, 45-45.

The bishops' message on immigration conflicts witht the views of a number of Catholic politicians who have made their Catholic faith central to their political identity, such as Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.

Obama is inconsistent as well, it should be noted. After accelerating deportations--with cruel results for many immigrant families--he has now reversed direction. This, coupled with the timing of his announcement to after the midterm election, heightens the sense that immigration regulation is all a matter of politics, not compassion.

Going back to early in the 20th century, the Catholic Church and allied Irish-Catholic organizations fought the anti-immigrant fervor that led to passage of a 1924 law that mostly ended the flood of immigration from Italy and eastern Europe. We owe the same effort to the new generation of immigrants. It might be noted that most of the undocumented immigrants who will benefit from Obama's executive order are probably Catholics, given that a large majority come from predominantly Catholic nations in Latin America.

 

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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