This Land is Your Land: A Pastoral Letter on Immigration 

By Molly Bird, Coordinator of Peer Ministry

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” -Exodus 22:21

I did not think much about immigration until the winter of 2008/2009 when I had the opportunity to travel as a staff advisor on a VISION trip to the Texas and Mexico border.  The “Tex Mex” trip took a group of us to El Paso and Juarez, where we participated in a border immersion program surrounding social justices issues related to immigration.  We stayed with the community at Annunciation House (also known as A-House”) which offers shelter and food to refugees along the border.  It was during this experience I learned so much about immigration, met real people effected by what previously I’d only known as a political issue, and realized why social justice is important as a person of faith.  We met with various organizations and ministries advocating for amnesty and compassion for individuals and families impacted by the violence and separation often related to immigration.  I developed a newfound sense of love and mercy for my neighbor and for the alien. 

As a faithful Catholic Christian, I would like to share with you a Pastoral Letter I wrote on Immigration in the U.S. titled, “This Land is Your Land”:    

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

1. We are believers called to follow Our Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim His Gospel in the midst of a complex world. This reality poses both opportunities and responsibilities for Christians in the United States. Our faith calls us to examine the world and its affairs by how it touches human life and whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person. Economic and political decisions have human consequences and moral content; they help or hurt people, strengthen or weaken family life, advance or diminish the quality of justice in our land.

2. This is why I have written This Land Is Your Land: A Pastoral Letter Immigration in the U.S. This letter is a personal invitation to Christians to use the resources of our faith, and the opportunities of our democracy to shape a society that better protects the dignity and basic rights of our sisters and brothers from bordering nations, both in this land and around the world.

3. The United States is a part of a larger Global universe.  This new global economy brings us into closer and more compact connections with near and distant neighbors, our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Why I Write

4.  I write as a follower of the Holy Scriptures as revealed to us by the Old Testament Prophets and Jesus and His followers in the New Testament.  It is written in Leviticus 19:33-34 “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not oppress him.  You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.   In Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (13:1-3 ) he says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.” In the parable of the Last Judgment, Jesus said, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink .... As often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Mt. 25:35-40). The challenge for us is to discover in our own place and time what it means to love and serve "the least among us" and to "hunger and thirst for righteousness."

5. Economic life raises important social and moral questions for each of us and for the society as a whole. Like family life, economic life is one of the chief areas where we live out our faith, love our neighbor, confront temptation, fulfill God's creative design, and achieve holiness.

6. As Christians, we are heirs of a long tradition of thought and action on the moral dimensions of economic activity. The life and words of Jesus and the teaching of his Church call us to serve those in need and to work actively for social and economic justice.

7. As Americans, we are grateful for the gift of freedom and committed to the dream of "liberty and justice for all." This nation, blessed with extraordinary resources, has provided an unprecedented standard of living for millions of people. We are proud of the strength, productivity, and creativity of our economy, but we also remember those who have been left behind in our progress. We believe that we honor our history best by working for the day when all our sisters and brothers share adequately in the American dream, in our land or in theirs.

8. As Christians and followers of Christ, we have deep compassion for our brothers and sisters who come from bordering nations plagued by violence, political corruption, poor economic conditions, and poverty. We see the decency, generosity, and vulnerability of God’s people. We see the struggles of ordinary families to make ends meet and to provide a better future for their children.   

9. We feel the hurts and hopes of God’s people. We feel the pain of our sisters and brothers who are alienated, poor, unemployed, homeless, living on the edge.  Out of desperation our brothers and sisters seek refuge in far away nations.  The immigrants are in our workplaces, our neighborhoods, in our parishes, in our service agencies, and in our shelters. We see too much injustice, too much suffering and despair, both in our country and around the world.

 

The United States History in Foreign Nations

10. The Second Vatican Council declared that "the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the followers of Christ" [1]. There is a long history with the U.S. and the protection of interests in foreign nations which has contributed to the political corruption of bordering states and nations, and resulted in much grief and suffering of our brothers and sisters.

Misconceptions about Aliens (Undocumented Immigrants)

11. This grief and suffering is often the catalyst to seek refuge in neighboring places.  War and violence resulting in oppression and poor living conditions cause people to flee from unfit working conditions, poor labor protection, and violence.  This fleeing often results in the separation of family and home.  People cross borders out of desperation and are unable to procure the proper documentation, becoming aliens in a foreign land. 

12. From the perspective of the United States and its economy there are many misconceptions about aliens (undocumented) people in America [2].  Some of those being:           

  • They use our government services but they don’t contribute to the tax system
  • They are taking away our jobs
  • They don’t want to learn English
  • They increase crime
  • They are lawbreakers and enter illegally

Call to Action: Love and Solidarity

13. Despite the ignorance and misconceptions of many Americans on issues of immigration, it is my sincere hope that we as a society would educate ourselves on the truths of the matter.  That we would educate our children on the difficulties aliens face.  It is also my hope that our Christian faith would be the foundation of our actions and desires to live in Solidarity with our brothers and sisters and love them as Jesus loves them. 

14. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted the age-old Jewish affirmation of faith that God alone is One and to be loved with the whole heart, mind, and soul (Dt 6:4-5) and immediately adds: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lv 19:18, Mk 12:28-34). This dual command of love that is at the basis of all Christian morality is illustrated in the Gospel of Luke by the parable of a Samaritan who interrupts his journey to come to the aid of a dying man (Lk 10:29-37). Unlike the other wayfarers who look on the man and pass by, the Samaritan "was moved with compassion at the sight"; he stops, tends the wounded man, and takes him to a place of safety. In this parable compassion is the bridge between mere seeing and action: love is made real through effective action [3, 4].

15. Near the end of his life, Jesus offers a vivid picture of the last judgment (Mt 25:31-46). All the nations of the world will be assembled and will be divided into those blessed who are welcomed into God's kingdom or those cursed who are sent to eternal punishment. The blessed are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and imprisoned; the cursed are those who neglected these works of mercy and love. Neither the blessed nor the cursed are astounded that they are judged by the Son of Man, nor that the judgment is rendered according to the works of charity. The shock comes when they find that in neglecting the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed, they were rejecting Jesus himself. Jesus who came as "Emmanuel" (God with us, Mt 1:23) and who promises to be with his people until the end of the age (Mt 28:20) is hidden in those most in need; to reject them is to reject God made manifest in history [4].

[1] "Pastoral Constitution", 1.

[2]  Rebecca Todd Peters & Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, Eds, "To Do Justice: A Guide for Progressive Christians” (Westmister: John Knox Press, 2008).

 [3] Greg H. Duncan, "Years of Poverty, Years of Plenty: The Changing Economic Fortunes of American Workers and their Families" (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, 1984).

[4] US Catholic Bishops, “Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy” (1986).