What is a Catholic to think?
We are called to welcome the stranger, but also to respect the law. We are morally bound to respect the dignity of every human person, but cannot create civil disorder.
Reports suggest that President Obama may soon act by Executive Order to expand ‘deferred action’ for parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. By doing so, the Obama administration would no longer enforce our immigration laws as applied to an estimated 4-5 million people living illegally in the United States.
A good idea? Necessary? Legal?
Unfortunately this constitutionally suspect move has the apparent support of Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, who chairs the migration committee for the U.S. Bishops. Bishop Elizondo said this week: “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”
With deep respect for our Bishops, we strongly disagree.
First, let me say we applaud our bishops for their steadfast demand that our immigration system be reformed. Our Bishops have rightly placed the needs of real people — human persons — at the heart of their pleas for reform. Children and families are not political pawns. Our bishops are right: people are suffering, our immigration system is broken, and it must be reformed.
Catholics in good conscience can disagree on the appropriate level of immigration to allow and how to best reform our broken system. There is no dogma on immigration policy. Careful reasoning, respect for human dignity, persuasion, and prudence are all necessary tools.
That’s why we believe an executive order will only make the problem worse — making real reform even more difficult.
If the president unilaterally short-circuits lawmakers elected to represent the American people, anti-immigrant sentiment will inevitably be inflamed. A knee-jerk executive order will only harden existing divisions, and perpetuate the real suffering our bishops hope to end. Partisans on both sides will have less incentive to find real solutions.
Immigration, like health care, is a complex issue. Resolving big questions like this through the democratic process isn’t easy and requires patience. President Obama knows this and has admitted as much. President Bush encountered resistance to his own immigration reforms. And President Obama chose to avoid this issue during his first term and focused instead on Obamacare.
Building a bipartisan consensus on reform takes time. Real leadership requires garnering trust, subduing passions, and working with an honest desire to make some progress, even when your ultimate goals are not achieved immediately. Exhibit A: the pro-life movement
So, if not an executive order, then what?
Washington D.C. loves to demand 2,000 page “comprehensive” bills to solve 20 problems at once. The Senate passed such a bill and it has gone nowhere. Politicians from both parties love passing these bills so they can claim they’ve “solved” the problem. The truth is these massive laws largely hand off responsibilities to the numerous alphabet government bureaucracies to do the dirty work for Congress.
Democrats failed to solve (or even address) the issue while they controlled Congress. Now a Republican Party, clearly divided over the best path forward, will soon be given the leadership role.
We believe the Bishops should encourage leaders of both parties to offer up one or two basic reforms which could generate bipartisan consensus in Congress. Find some common ground however modest. And start to build from there.
The antics of the past have failed. Yet real progress on this issue remains possible.
Start small. Calm the waters.
Build some trust.
Get something done.