From the beginning, immigrants have helped give America its spiritual and moral identity. Our economy and culture are founded on the energy and creativity of generations of immigrants.
I have been talking about this for years — the “hidden” story of America. Long before the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, and long before the Founding Fathers, this country was being evangelized and settled by immigrants from Latin America and from Asia.
America has always been a beautiful collection of peoples from around the world. And the immigrant spirit is still renewing this country, despite the hardships and struggles of recent years.
In fact, last weekend I attended a unique graduation: the first graduating class from an adult education program that gives immigrants the tools they need to integrate successfully into our society, teaching them English and giving them practical knowledge about our government, culture and economy.
Called Maestro en Casa (Teacher at Home), the program is run by our archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools and Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together, or MATT.
Maestro en Casa reminds us that those coming to our country today have the same ambitions and values as immigrants in generations past. They are seeking a better life for their children and their families, and they are committed to working hard and sacrificing to make their contributions to the American story. The archdiocese has established a new online resource, too, for immigrants and advocates, TheNextAmerica.org.
These times we are living in call for prayer and thoughtful action. And as we pray, we are working hard for reforms in our broken and obsolete immigration system.
In recent months, I have been talking to our political leaders and even with officials in the Department of Homeland Security and local and federal officials of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We are also providing education in local parishes to support people and help them know their rights.
But we know that we will not make any progress until we make substantial reforms in our system.
For the Catholic Church, immigration reform has never meant “open borders” or “amnesty” for those who are in this country in violation of our laws.
The church has always taught that every nation should have secure borders and every nation should be able to regulate how many people are let into the country, who they are and how long they are allowed to stay.
We are working to strengthen our country through common sense immigration reform that our country needs to grow and to welcome those who want to join us in the great American adventure.
Right now our visa system is too complicated and imposes quotas that make it difficult for American employers to find the workers they need — in areas ranging from the hi-tech sector to agriculture, and construction-related industries.
We need visa reforms in every area. We also need reforms to make it easier for religious workers from other countries to receive visas.
And we need to find ways to help the millions who are undocumented and have been living in our country for many years, working honestly and raising families — but who right now have no way to address their immigration status.
We have millions of men and women in our country who are undocumented, but are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents in this country. It only makes sense that we put in place a permanent visa system to allow these men and women to work and to make their contributions to our society.
And, of course, we have the “Dreamers” — those undocumented young men and women who were brought to this country as children or young adults. It is not right that these fine young people are made to live in a kind of “limbo” — without a home country and without a way to fully participate in our American life.
Pray for me this week — and know I am praying for you.
And pray with me that our neighbors might come to see themselves in the faces of these new immigrants to our country — may we see in them our own natural desire for happiness and our own human need to be welcomed, valued and loved.
And may our Blessed Mother watch over our country and help make us one nation under God.