Fr. Patrick Keane's Press Statement on Immigration Reform
Why Are People Leaving Their Native Countries?
Fr. Patrick Keane
Vicar for Hispanics
Catholic Diocese of Raleigh
If we study our nation's history we will find that every wave of immigrants has been met with complaints and prejudice but in the end were ultimately praised and vindicated as being vital to the flourishing of our country. The Church does not condone or encourage illegal immigration [because it is against the law, not good for society nor for the immigrant who lives in the shadows and is subject to exploitation and at times death.] But it is always worth asking the question, "Why would a person or a family leave their native country to live as strangers in a foreign land?"
Imagine that you are a parent of two young girls in a poor African country where AIDS is rampant and little girls are at great risk of being abducted and sexually abused because they might not yet be infected. In addition, there is great instability in the local government and your family does not belong to the correct religion or tribe. But you have a close family member in America who has his own business and lives in a safe neighborhood and he is offering to pay for your children to come over so that they will have a better chance at living in dignity and peace. You can't apply for a legal visa because of restrictive quotas that have caused a twenty year backlog in processing. What would you do? A lot of our ancestors had to make the same tough decisions.
America has always been seen and promoted as the land of opportunity. Western culture has been dangled in front of every nation on the planet due to our global media and technology. Third world and struggling countries are no longer seen as nations to be helped but rather as markets to be tapped into. In the 90's trade agreements were supposed to allow Mexico greater free trade so that it could export goods rather than people. In reality tens of thousands of Mexican businesses folded because they were unable to compete with U.S. companies. In addition, Mexican farmers were undercut by cheap U.S. government subsidized grain imports from our farmers causing many to look for work elsewhere, but none was to be found in their native land.
The Catholic Church affirms the right of a nation to protect and secure its borders from illegal entry and we as a nation need to protect our borders and coastlines. But this is by no means the sole solution. We as Americans have a moral obligation to help economically the developing countries that provide the foods and products that we consume on a daily basis. Since we are not willing to pay $20 per pound for coffee, or $10 per pound for corn, bananas or sugar so that the campesinos who picked them might receive a living wage, we need to compensate them as we would those who serve our meals in restaurants, not with a hand-out but with a hand-up. We need to support organizations that develop infrastructures in poor countries so that their residents will receive a good education, varied job skills and have access to clean water, medicine, and healthy food. The best programs are those that focus on educating children.
If we help to create an environment where people would never dream of leaving their families we will effectively put an end to the dangerous and illegal trafficking in human beings.
I am a native of Winston-Salem and proud to be a North Carolinian and an American. But it was during the 1990's when I lived as a missionary in El Salvador that I realized the economic impact that Western capitalism has on poor countries. For us to live as we have grown accustomed to here, it is at the painful expense of the poor in Latin America who provide the foods that we eat and the clothes that we wear. Even if they work down there for U.S. based companies, the lopsided salaries that the executives here get, translate to sub-human wages for the poor. The average DAILY wage for a laborer is $4 and their prices for commodities are equal to or higher than what they are here. Could you feed your family for $4 a day? Just like deer migrate to feed themselves and their young when their habitats have been destroyed and developed and we complain when they cross the highways and eat our rose bushes in our yards, how much more will human beings who are in the image of God seek to feed their own families when their native lands have been exploited and there are no decent jobs?
Several years ago I founded The Least Among Us (www.theleastamongus.org) which is a non-profit organization that builds schools and educates children in rural El Salvador. Every time I go back down there I jokingly ask the kids if they would like to come back with me to the U.S. and they always say absolutely not. They couldn't imagine leaving their families, their culture and their country that they are very proud of. It is not their childhood dream. But if nothing is done to help them, they might feel forced to migrate as does a father who has buried his third child due to disease and malnutrition. I do everything in my power to develop the future of their country so that children can fulfill their dreams of being teachers or mechanics so that they can live in dignity with their families instead of here in the shadows. If we want to stop the illegal trafficking of people then we must help the poor where they are: in their home countries. But if we continually want more for ourselves then that necessitates that the poor must make do with even less than they have now. Where would you go if you were them?
We should not judge harshly why someone has come to this country. If it weren't for immigrant labor and the taxes that they are paying, we would be experiencing a huge economic crisis in our country and the housing, construction and agricultural markets would crash because labor costs would become prohibitive. We should also avoid labeling someone as illegal because it causes us to see them not as human beings but as problems to be disposed of.
I close with the words of the Most Reverend Thomas Wenski, Bishop of Orlando: "The so-called "illegals" are so not because they wish to defy the law; but, because the law does not provide them with any channels to regularize their status in our country – which needs their labor: they are not breaking the law, the law is breaking them.