Catholic Church and Immigration Reform
The executive director
of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., Donald Kerwin, writes:
“…the Catholic Church has played a central role in the immigrant-led protests
that have swept the country. The church has encouraged parishioners to
participate in the protests, offered bishops and priests as speakers,
and served as an interlocutor for its newcomer members before Congress
and in other public forums.” [“Immigration Reform and the Catholic Church,”
May 1, 2006]
Kerwin isn’t proposing
a Catholic conspiracy. He has tremendous admiration for the immigration
work of the Catholic Church. What he has identified is an impressive ideological
network with its hub at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
(USCCB). In 2005, after years of pro-immigrant activism, the USCCB launched
a national campaign, “Justice for Immigrants.” In turn, nearly 80 U.S.
dioceses initiated local “Justice for Immigrants” campaigns that were
taken into diocesan parishes.
USCCB public policy
on immigration doesn’t support open borders, illegal immigration, or an
amnesty package that would grant legal status to all unauthorized immigrants.
However, it has created a complicated situation for itself, in which many
of its allies do support these radical positions – and the Catholic Church
is very generous to its allies.
Specifically, to further
the work of its immigration campaign, the USCCB has devoted a significant
portion of its annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) collection
to projects that focus on “immigrant rights.”
For instance, in the
2005-2006 funding period, CCHD awarded $20,000 to San Diego’s Justice
Overcoming Boundaries. Justice Overcoming Boundaries, the San Diego Catholic
Diocese, and the CCHD-funded San Diego Organizing Project were primary
organizers of marches in San Diego, seeking laws that would offer undocumented
immigrants legal standing in the U.S.
Somos Un Pueblo Unido,
an immigrants’ rights organization in New Mexico that received $25,000
last year and $30,000 this year from CCHD grants won a Santa Fe City Council
resolution to ban city employees from asking immigrants about their immigration
status. It spearheaded a statewide legislative campaign to make undocumented
immigrants eligible for drivers’ licenses and organized another to allow
undocumented students access to in-state tuition and state financial aid.
Its April 9, 2006 press release says that along with the Archdiocese of
Santa Fe, CCHD-funded ACORN, and Call to Action’s Pax Christi, Somos was
among the supporting organizations for New Mexico’s immigration rights
At least 29 CCHD grants
were given to community organizations around the country, specifically
to garner support for “immigrants’ rights.”
There is a second
way immigration issues are carried into American Catholic parishes. CCHD
has been funding “people’s organizations” since the 1970s. About a dozen
of these have formed national networks of community-based and religious
affiliates, affecting hundreds of congregations in cities around the United
States. All are highly political and connected to left-wing activism.
The Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), for instance, with about 55 affiliates
and millions of Catholic dollars in its pockets, has been spreading liberation
theology and its political opinions among Catholics for decades.
Here are some examples
of IAF activism for immigration reform:
In Los Angeles, marches to support undocumented workers were organized
by the coalition Somos América (We Are America) – of which ONE-LA/IAF,
the Los Angeles branch of the Industrial Areas Foundation, is a part.
With the Archdiocese of Los Angeles also a member of the coalition and
ONE-LA/IAF organizing in dozens of Los Angeles parishes, the Somos América
coalition is demanding that all illegal immigrants in the U.S. be naturalized.
In 2005, Wells Fargo
Bank contributed $25,000 to help ONE-LA/IAF “continue to have mobile
matriculas events.” The bank accepts matriculas consulares as a form
of identification, enabling illegal immigrants to obtain banking services.
The cards also give access to city and state services and, in 13 states,
to driver licenses.
IAF’s work in the colonias – communities of illegal squatters that are
frequently established without water or basic sanitation services –
is legendary. Its efforts have created infrastructures that make the
colonias livable. However, it has also imported Latin American liberationism
into the Catholic churches around the colonias.
The IAF of Texas
is responsible for the state’s “Robin Hood Laws,” which assured education
funding to illegal immigrant communities was equal to that in other
In Houston, Fr.
Kevin Collins, a member of the executive committee of the city’s IAF
local, was instrumental in obtaining a day labor center where undocumented
workers and prospective employers can pair up. “It's better for the
neighborhood that workers are inside. It's better for the workers,”
said Broderick Bagert, an organizer for the Metropolitan Organization,
the Houston IAF affiliate.
In Baltimore, 500 members of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership
Development, a Baltimore IAF local) gathered at St. Patrick's Catholic
Church to protest HR 4437, saying that the legislation “would make it
a crime for others - including religious workers - to assist illegal
immigrants.” [John-John Williams, “Immigration Bill Draws Criticism,”
Baltimore Sun, March 20, 2006] Rhetoric was high, with members pledging,
“that if they have to, they will go to jail.”
The Arizona Interfaith Network, the collective name for the IAF’s statewide
organization, urged U.S. House representatives (in a December 16, 2005
open letter) to vote against HR 4437. Its leadership organized an “Interfaith
Prayer Service” at the state capitol in April 2006.
In Chicago, St. Gertrude’s Catholic Church parish bulletin announced
that on Sunday, April 23, 2006 there would be an “Interfaith Vigil”
at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel: “To pray and create a memorial
for those who died on the border; To campaign for legalization and citizenship
for the undocumented; To campaign for undocumented students to go to
college and earn legal status; To campaign to keep families together.”
St. Gertrude’s Catholic Church is a member of United Power for Action
and Justice (UPAJ), Chicago’s IAF affiliate.
About four hundred
people gathered to pray for immigration reform on April 10 at Our Lady
of Tepeyac Catholic Church, another Chicago parish. It was timed to
coincide with “A Day Without Immigrants,” when immigration reform protests
and rallies were scheduled around the country. As with the above “Interfaith
Vigil, “ this vigil also prayed for “a path to legal residency and citizenship
for undocumented workers, for a workable solution to unite families
divided by the border, and a way for any student raised in the United
States to earn legal residency and qualify for student aid.”
utilized the standard liberationist technique of conscientizing and
legitimating a political position by associating it with a cherished
religious image: at the 12th station, where the worshipper is to meditate
on the death of Jesus, the congregation prayed “for all those who have
died trying to cross the border in search of a better life in the United
States.” [Michelle Martin, “Immigration reform efforts, prayers continue,”
Catholic New World, Archdiocesan paper of Chicago, April 16, 2006] Our
Lady of Tepeyac Catholic Church is also a member of UPAJ.