William F. Murphy is bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. This is excerpted from remarks made at the Nassau County and Latino Immigration Forum at Adelphi University on Oct. 22.
If we cast an eye back through our nation's history of immigration, it is clear that at different times different ethnic groups faced opposition and even hostility. The Irish in their time, the Italians in theirs. Sadly, in our day the Latino community bears a similar burden.
There are many millions of immigrants living and working here in the United States. We depend on their labor, and they make significant contributions to our local and national economies. They work in our hospitals, our schools, our farms, restaurants and even our own homes; they take care of our children and elderly parents.
More than 12 million of these are undocumented, and a significant number of these are Latino. But we must remember that of the approximately 330,000 Latinos living on Long Island, 50,000 are undocumented. Slightly less than one in six! In other words, 280,000 are here legally.
Mirroring the national reality, however, the presence of these people is a point of division and controversy throughout Long Island. Our communities are polarized, and people, especially the immigrants, are demonized.
What we need above all is a civil, reasoned discourse that will help us arrive at a meaningful and realistic solution. We need to listen to the other, try to understand their fears, their needs, their perspective, and get to know them as human beings. We need to muster the courage to acknowledge:
That abject poverty forces people to set out on a perilous journey to our country in search of a better life.
That 40 men living in a one-family house is neither safe nor desirable and harms the neighborhood.
That day laborers - documented and undocumented workers - fill a void in our labor market, and to date there is no reasonable alternative.
That longtime residents struggle to pay taxes and continue to live in their communities, where they have a right to see the standards of decent living observed and respected by all.
That families are torn apart as a result of the economic need to immigrate. The church approaches this important social issue from the moral perspectives of our biblical tradition and our rich body of Catholic social teaching. The quality of our relationship with God can be judged by our society's treatment of the poor and vulnerable. We must engage in important social issues with the dual moral principles of respecting the dignity and rights of the individual, while always pursuing the common good.
In 1983 the Holy See deposited at the United Nations a Charter of the Rights of the Family. This is based on the inherent dignity of every human being, a dignity that must be respected no matter who the person is or what circumstances he or she may be subjected to.
One of the values of Latino society is its high regard for the family. In fact, care of one's family in one's homeland is a major motivator for those immigrants who come here seeking work.
As we seek to respond to today's challenges, we need to keep in mind fundamental rights, such as rights to work, decent wages, safe working conditions and the ability to live simply but with dignity.
We must also recognize the right to marry, found a family, and the right of the family to live together in unity and freely to bring children into the world; the right to have access to the means to earn a living that can care for the family and for that family to contribute to the good of society. The last right in this charter states, "The families of migrants have the right to the same protection as that accorded other families."
We as a church are eager to offer our pastoral assistance in this important challenge to us all, and we recognize there are some principles that must be observed by us all in this matter:
Respect for law and the commitment that all must live according to just laws.
The right of sovereign nations to secure their borders.
The right of people to remain in their homeland or to emigrate to support themselves and their families.
Respect for the inherent human dignity and rights of every person regardless of political, economic or civil status.
The central role and rights of the family as the primary and fundamental unit that is the basis of every other society.
As bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, I have serious concerns about the recent immigration raids that took place on Long Island. I do not, in any way, object to the right and duty of law enforcement authorities to do their job, nor do I oppose the appropriate arrest and prosecution of those engaged in criminal activities.
However, any enforcement effort that does not respect the dignity and rights of every human, and denies due process under the law, ought to be vigorously rejected. One of the results of recent raids has been that families were torn apart. And even to date, pastors and family members have been unable to determine the location of their loved ones who were detained.
The federal government has a primary responsibility for comprehensive immigration-law reform. We must have enforceable federal laws that regulate immigration effectively. We should not expect local communities to fill in the void.
We should not punish people who have come here legally seeking honest work, nor should we deprive people who are here of their dignity as human beings.
All of us must rise to the occasion of this enormous social challenge by putting aside the rhetoric and stereotypes and directing our passions and strong convictions instead to finding real and lasting solutions that will build a nation and a Long Island of which we can all be proud.
Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.