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Posted April 11, 2007

To Be Or Not To Be An Ugly American Will Depend Greatly On How We Treat Our Immigrants And Champion Human Dignity

Why so many walls?

By Father Eugene Hemrick
Catholic News Service

"There is something wrong with this picture," I told myself as I watched Mexican-American laborers build anti-terrorist barriers around the U.S. Capitol while at the same time Congress was voting to erect walls along the Mexican-American border.

Without question, illegal immigration needs to be checked, not only for security reasons but also for the safety of immigrants. Sad to say, the threat of terrorism has heightened suspicions about the legality of all immigrants. Equally unfortunate are illegal immigrants who end up being exploited by corrupt people.

We have entered a new era of immigration when a welcoming spirit we once lauded is being tested.

The problem with walls along our borders is that they heighten suspicions at a time when we should be striving to increase respect for each other. As the war on terrorism has taught us, the best weapon against terrorism would come with the creation of mutual trust and respect among those most affected by it.

Building protective walls is a fact of life. In the Bible the walls of Jericho are destroyed by the Hebrews. When they, in turn, build Jerusalem, walls are erected to keep out their enemies.

Interestingly, the word "Kremlin" means walls, and in Russia's neighboring country there is the Great Wall of China.

During the days of the Iron Curtain, walls between communism and free states abounded. In early American history and today, for that matter, walled-in forts have dotted our landscapes.

Walls don't always consist of concrete and steel. Feuding husbands and wives can erect psychological barriers more difficult to penetrate than the Great Wall of China.

Although walls, bulwarks, ramparts and other forms of defense primarily are meant to ensure security, whenever they are erected to keep other human beings out, they raise serious questions.

In the case of the southern borders of the United States, we need to ask: Is this the best way of ensuring our security? How does this solve the problem of honest, poor people trying to escape deprivation? Is this an acceptable American way of life?

In most instances, resorting to protective barriers symbolizes capitulation. It is a concession that more reasonable means cannot be found for solving our problems. It flies in the face of the belief that American ingenuity can win the day.

Our history is replete with lessons of ingenious leaders who devised ways of bringing people together. Great coaches and American entrepreneurs repeatedly have been lauded for the innovative ways they created teamwork. Isn't this collaboration and teamwork what we should be seeing much more of when it comes to the U.S. and Mexico?

No doubt about it, Sept. 11, 2001, recast a peace-loving America into a much more guarded and cautious nation. Despite anxieties, we must ask: Can we be content with this picture? Have we fallen into a walled-in mentality that severely diminishes one of our greatest gifts, our capacity to tear down walls in the pursuit of peace and liberty?

On political and practical fronts, attention turns to immigrants

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With Congress preparing to reopen the touchy subject of an immigration reform bill, the people and religious organizations that deal with the human repercussions of the current situation are planning new strategies and dusting off old ones.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he will bring the immigration legislation to the floor for debate the last two weeks of May, even though a Senate bill has yet to be introduced. A House version that so far is serving as a baseline for congressional discussion was introduced in March. President George W. Bush was expected to promote a White House-backed bill during events planned for the week after Easter.

Like the return of spring flowers, the season has brought increased attention back to border issues on many fronts:

-- The self-proclaimed citizens' border-watch organizations such as the Minutemen were heralding their spring campaign along the Arizona-Mexican border.

-- Workplace raids by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, were the subject of vehement protests in California, New England, the mid-Atlantic and the Midwest by religious leaders whose social service programs were trying to handle the repercussions for families that have had breadwinners arrested, detained or deported.

-- The vast coalition of faith groups, ethnic organizations, unions, business groups and immigrants' rights organizations that supports a comprehensive approach to immigration reform worked all their channels in Congress to influence what final legislation includes.

The House bill, H.R. 1645, the Security Through Regularized Immigration and a Vibrant Economy, or STRIVE Act, represents "a good starting point," according to Kevin Appleby, director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Among its failings, he said, are that the bill lacks provisions to restore due process rights for immigrants and includes unnecessary enforcement mechanisms that will harm refugees and asylum seekers.

The bill includes increased enforcement efforts at the border; legal orientation programs for detainees; new penalties for people convicted of certain crimes; an employment verification program; provisions for up to 400,000 guest workers annually; a path to permanent residency for guest workers; reforms of the family-based immigration visa program; and a path to legalization for people who are already in this country illegally.

Meanwhile, workplace immigration raids since last fall that have torn apart families, especially those with some citizen and some undocumented members, are prompting some religious groups to resurrect a 1980s idea -- offering sanctuary in their churches.

California-, New York- and Chicago-based interfaith organizations are laying the groundwork for what they call a New Sanctuary Movement, which will offer refuge to families of mixed immigration status who are facing deportation. A formal announcement launching the movement is expected in late April.

The New Sanctuary Movement is being coordinated by Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice-California, an alliance of interfaith organizations; Interfaith Worker Justice, a Chicago-based national network of worker justice groups; and the New York Sanctuary Coalition as a way "to accompany and protect immigrant families who are facing the violation of their human rights in the form of hatred, workplace discrimination and unjust deportation," as the movement's Web site says.

The group cites roots in the sanctuary movement of the 1980s. Then, networks of mostly church-based shelters provided refuge for Central American immigrants who fled wars in their homelands, but were unable to obtain legal asylum in the United States.

On its main Web page, the new movement cites Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony as prompting their efforts.

In March 2006, Cardinal Mahony said he would instruct his priests and other archdiocesan employees to disregard provisions of a then-pending House bill that would have criminalized the act of providing humanitarian aid to people without first checking their legal status. The bill passed in the House, but negotiators were never able to resolve it with a vastly different Senate immigration bill and both proposals died with the 109th Congress.

"Cardinal Mahony's statements were significant in awakening the general public and legislators to the moral and human dimensions of the question -- effectively changing the terms of the public debate," said the site.

Since then, religious leaders nationwide have considered how to best support immigrants, the background material said.

"The crisis of ongoing raids and deportations as well as the opportunity offered by the push for federal legislation increased the urgency of creating an effective and prophetic national strategy," it said. A set of goals drafted at a January meeting in Washington that resulted in the New Sanctuary Movement includes:

-- Protecting immigrant workers and families from unjust deportation.

-- Changing the public debate.

-- Awakening the moral imagination of the country.

-- Making immigrant workers and families visible as children of God.

Participating organizations are asked to serve as hosts for families facing deportation, including U.S. citizen children and adults with good work records. The congregations will not be expected to keep the identities of the families or the community's involvement secret, which organizers believe will protect the hosts from prosecution under federal laws that prohibit concealing illegal immigrants.