¡Sí, se puede!
Immigration issues awaken solidarity
“We could not fly here because some of us do not have a driver’s license or state ID.” Instead the young Latino men and women had to drive over 2,000 miles to Indiana to celebrate their faith with thousands of other Hispanic youth at the First National Encuentro for Hispanic Youth and Young Adult Ministry. These students could not fly because they are undocumented immigrants. Their leader’s comment, which only a year ago would have been met with just a shrug of the shoulders, could today spark a long conversation and debate. The topic of illegal immigration has jumped to the headlines of newspapers and TV news programs.
Even H.R. 4437, the tough anti-immigration bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, has become a household word in the immigrant population. Probably not since the farmworkers’ marches led by César Chávez in the 1960s has the Latino community been seen and heard so clearly throughout the United States as in the current immigration debate.
The spring of 2006 saw hundreds of thousands of immigrants—authorized and unauthorized alike—asking to be treated fairly, requesting that their contributions to this nation be acknowledged, and speaking out so they might be able to have the opportunities that millions of immigrants before them have had.
And the Latinos were not alone. From Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago to Milwaukee and Atlanta, Latinos walked side by side with Irish, Polish, Korean, Chinese, Kenyan, and Nigerian immigrants and other U.S. citizens who supported the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants, of which Latinos make up some 78 percent. The movement stood for the dignity and rights of all immigrants, authorized or not, Latino or not.
Still, it was the estimated 44 million Latinos, under the “Sí, se puede” rallying cry, who led the protest marches in response to the H.R. 4437 bill. Meant to curtail immigration, and framing it as a national security issue instead of a social one, the proposed bill seriously threatened the well-being, future, and human rights of immigrants. Even those who lend them a helping hand, such as clergy and social and health care professionals, would have been subject to criminal prosecution.
Many Latinos felt the proposed congressional bill promoted discrimination, an experience with which they have been sadly familiar. While there are differences, significant at times, between foreign and U.S.-born Hispanics, there are some common opinions.
According to studies conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, 80 percent of all Latinos believe that immigrants strengthen the U.S. economy and 84 percent favor giving undocumented immigrants permanent status and eventually U.S. citizenship. With respect to the number of immigrants who should be allowed to enter the U.S., 43 percent believe that the rate should stay the same, while 13 percent think it should be reduced and 31 percent that it should be increased. Despite these and other differences, the demonstrations of 2006 portrayed a broadly united Latino community in a way never seen before. The many implications and discussions that emerged from the proposed reforms compelled Hispanics to gather to be heard.
A prophetic role was taken by the Catholic Church, which already in the fall of 2005 had launched its Justice for Immigrants campaign, months before the legislature introduced its bills. Rooted in Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40), the campaign has four goals: to educate the public about church teaching on migration, to create political will, to enact legislative reform consistent with church teaching, and to organize Catholic networks to assist immigrants.
Calling on the church’s social teaching and the scriptures, the campaign reminds us of the words from the Book of Deuteronomy: “You, too, must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (10:18-19). The church, through the active participation of clergy, lay leaders, and committed Catholics alike, has provided invaluable leadership in giving a voice to those who are often not heard, and in promoting solidarity, charity, and the dignity and rights of immigrants regardless of their country of origin.
- Do you participate in the efforts of your community to promote just legislation for the people?