Friday, July 26, 2013

What Immigration Reform Should Mean Part 1


Imagine that you are a lawyer and please don’t vomit.  I agree, it’s not exactly the most popular profession in the block since the scribes and Pharisees ruined it for us.  They waxed legalistic on Jesus, got themselves cursed and from then on it was a downhill battle to get our reputation off the list of top comedy targets.  But there’s no stand-up comedy act involved here, so let’s pretend you’re one of the lesser-known guys in the bar membership: an immigration attorney.

            If you’re a political conservative, this hot button issue probably has you tense as a squirrel in the face of a yappin’ Chihuahua, but I mean you no harm.  So please turn that grimace into a smile, come into my office, and swivel in my chair for a few minutes…

  Your first client is a Hispanic man who, according to the translator, seeks to become a lawful permanent resident.  Though he entered the US illegally, he has been an upstanding member of society, paying into social security and submitting taxes every year.  He married an American citizen, who recently gave birth to their first son. He has worked hard as a seasonal agricultural worker, a job that *no American wants, a job that can fully (albeit humbly) support his family.  You’re surprised to discover that he serves at the Sunday Spanish Mass at your parish.  

Your second client is a young Filipino nurse, highly skilled and in demand in the medical field.  A big Catholic hospital in your neighborhood is sponsoring a petition for her work permit so that she can begin to care for patients, one of which is your ailing mother.  Your third client is a Middle Eastern Catholic businessman who was religiously and politically persecuted in his country from which he escaped.  He is seeking asylum in the great, free country of America.  Soon, he hopes he can transfer his investments here, perhaps hire you as consultant but more importantly, his dream is for his family to join him.  Right now though he is unsure about their safety and location.  Your fourth client is the local Bishop, who is petitioning several Nigerian priests for his diocese as priestly vocations are declining in numbers, in complete disproportion to the rising need for Sacraments. Your fifth client is the blue-eyed, blonde childless couple you went to college with, who want to adopt a little girl from China.  Their baby could be aborted if they don’t act quickly. 

To all of your clients, you’re going to have to explain, while handing out those tissues, that it will take a lot of money and a long time to hold their baby/family in their arms or get that valuable worker in their business/Church on legalized status.  To the illegal immigrant, you have to say, through the translator of course, that he’s going to have to return to Mexico at some point in the future to wait for his petition to be called up and pray that the waiver is granted, because he jumped the border at the wrong time (after April 2001-- because the Amnesty law covered undocumented immigrants up to a certain date).   

I hope you weren’t too uncomfortable finding out that my clients, despite all appearances, are not quite strangers.  And I hope you somehow understand that when immigration attorneys advocate for immigration reform, not all of us are pandering to get every immigrant into the country by hook or by crook, dispensing with all of America’s borders, for the sole intention of setting us up on Forbes millionaire list.  We do so because we see the difficult red tape of bureaucracy and the price people and businesses pay for it; we are frustrated with unreasonable expenses and fees; we experience first or second hand the eternity of waiting for families to be together; and though we, too are weary with language barriers, we firmly believe it is merciful and just to give deserving immigrants rights and status for so long as they meet certain requirements of the law.  Finally, we take into consideration that we have met our fair share of clients who nonchalantly zipped across the border, like yesterday.  


As an immigration lawyer, I know the law as it stands can be tweaked, corrected, reformed and yes, lawfully enforced. I personally believe true immigration reform must have as its objective helping documented and undocumented immigrants as well as include provisions for border security.

As a Catholic, I note that a proposed immigration reform must strike a careful balance between the rights and obligations of both immigrants and countries, tempering both justice and mercy.  Taking the cue from the Bible to “welcome the stranger”  (Matt 25:35), our Catechism 2241 teaches us that “the more prosperous nations to the extent they are able, are obliged to welcome the foreigner in search of security and livelihood which is not available in his country of origin.”  But the universal Church, in her wisdom, also reminds the immigrants that: "Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.” This is the type of reform advocated by the United States Bishops.

That said, counselor, there is one final hurdle to keeping an open mind about immigration reform.  We need to get our new colleagues past the fact that although many immigrants entered the country illegally, they are not beyond the borders of our pardon, compassion or amnesty (if you want to call it that) just as no one is beyond God’s mercy and the gates of heaven. So let’s revisit the gospels and remember that Jesus forgave Mary Magdalen for her sinful past, praised her genuine reform and elevated her up to the level of the saints.  “It is mercy I desire,” Jesus clarified, “for the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

I don’t know about you, but in the not too distant future, I would rather hear Jesus say to me: “Blessed are the merciful, they shall find mercy,”  than to have Him associate me with the hard-hearted legalists, with such infamous words: “Woe! Woe to you scribes and Pharisees.” 

I will explain the current imm law and proposed bare bones of the reform bill in Part 2 for another day...

 *unless you want to go dig potatoes day in and day out, don't contradict that.

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