Is the Catholic Church in the United States Seeking Legalization of Undocumented Workers?

politics | May 11, 2010 | By Stephanie Block

Occasionally, one is writing to make a particular point and is so focused on that point that it’s only later one realizes a second, perhaps even more important, point has been made.

Last week’s article, “Collusion among Organizers of Immigration Reform,”  which described the efforts of various Alinskyian organizations to rally faith-based protest against the latest Arizona immigration legislation. contained a remarkable sentence, gleaned from the Dallas News. It was: “In Dallas, for instance, Dallas Area Interfaith, an affiliate of Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation, worked with several other religious institutions to support an immigration march in the city that demanded legalization of undocumented workers in the US and protesting the Arizona law.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa! The Dallas Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) demanded legalization of undocumented workers in the US? Did it really say that in the Dallas News? They want undocumented workers to be legalized?

Well, um…yes. It did.

Go read it yourself: Dianne Solis, “Religious leaders declare support for Dallas immigration march,” Dallas News, April 30, 2010. The opening paragraph says that religious leaders endorsed an immigration march in downtown Dallas, calling for legalization of those in the United States unlawfully “and citing worries that tensions in Arizona over a tough new immigration law will broaden into other states.” Further along in the article, it notes that the Dallas march “is one of dozens planned across the country in support of a legalization program for those in the United States unlawfully.” And then the article identifies the various institutions from which these religious leaders lead, including, yes, the IAF affiliate, Dallas Area Interfaith…and also a Iman from the Irving Islamic Center, but that’s one of those “other” points.

Back to Dallas Area Interfaith. Let’s ask two questions: is this an anomaly, peculiar to the Dallas Area Interfaith, and do the Catholic bishops who support the IAF (or similar networks) also have this in mind – a legalization program for those in the United States unlawfully – when they support immigration reform?

So, let’s tackle the first question: is Dallas Area Interfaith an anomaly?

It doesn’t appear to be. The Los Angeles coalition Somos América (We Are America) – which includes One LA-IAF, an IAFaffiliate, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles – demands that all illegal immigrants in the U.S. be naturalized. The One LA-IAF website quotes Latino activist Jose Calderon as saying, “Only through such work can voters make an impact on things such as immigration reform that includes paths to legalization for those who are undocumented,” an effort that “will require grass-roots organizing and the participation of community-based groups, churches and others.” [Monica Rodriguez, “Immigrant activists focus on political participation,” Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, May 7, 2006]

Then there’s the Arizona Interfaith Network, the collective name for the IAF’s statewide organization. It says on its website that it is a member of the Coalition for Comprehensive Immigration Reform [CCIR] and supports the work of the New American Opportunity Campaign, a project of CCIR whose policy platform reads: “Those who want to settle in the United States should be eligible for permanent residence and citizenship.”

Shall I continue examining one affiliate after another or is this sufficient to suggest a common purpose?

Now, mind you, the IAF is only one of several Alinskyian organizing networks, all of which support “comprehensive immigration reform.” Until recently, however, their rhetoric has emphasized humanitarian aid for the undocumented worker – which most Americans support – rather than the bitterly opposed demand for amnesty, complete with the full benefits of citizenship.

On to question two: do the Catholic bishops who support the IAF (or networks like it) also support a legalization program for those in the United States unlawfully?

This question has a complicated answer. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offers a booklet titled, “The Case for Legalization, Lessons from 1986, Recommendations for the Future,” prepared by the Center for Migration, under the heading of “Position Papers” which makes recommendations for the next amnesty bill. Another paper, “Groundswell Meets Groundwork: Recommendation for Building on Immigrant Mobilizations,” starts out, “the national immigration reform debate has shifted from an almost exclusive focus on enforcement measures to an increasing realization that any comprehensive legislation must also allow undocumented immigrants and future guest workers a path towards citizenship.” It discusses how to build on the momentum of undocumented immigrant marches while simultaneously building broader public support for their legalization.

There are certainly individual bishops who concur. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston addressed a 2008 IAF conference where he called for legalization of undocumented workers already in the country. [Allan Turner, “Cardinal calls for broad-based legalization plan: Church activists at summit take aim at U.S. policies,” Houston Chronicle, 11-17-08. The conference was organized by the Houston IAF affiliate, the Metropolitan Organization. It was called a “Clergy Summit: Welcoming the Stranger and Immigration Reform.”]

Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of the Diocese of El Paso addressed a more recent IAF Interfaith Immigration Summit in his diocese. The Summit “included a sample immigration academy that congregations can use to foster constructive conversations among their members,” where participants were taught that “[a]ccording to a recent study by the UCLA School of Urban Planning, $1.5 trillion in additional U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be gained over the next 10 years if comprehensive immigration reform, including legalization of the undocumented, is enacted.” [Marco Raposo and Carmen Vargas, “Interfaith summit addresses immigration reform, border violence,” El Paso Times, 5-02-10]

More nuanced, there is the thought of Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver, who begins by writing that “illegal immigration is wrong and dangerous for everyone involved,” although he absolutely supports every humanitarian consideration. Here’s a position that seems to allow the US the authority every other country practices. [Archbishop Charles Chaput, “Flawed law unintentionally shows urgent need for immigration reform,” Archbishop’s Column, Denver Catholic Register, 5-5-10]

His own local Alinskyian organization, however, the Metro Organizing for People (MOP), which is an affiliate of the PICO network, is active in the Campaign to Reform Immigration for America. The Campaign was launched in the summer of 2009 by “hundreds of allied organizations….in cities all across the country – from Los Angeles to Maine, Miami to Seattle.” [Eliseo Medina, SEIU International Executive VP, “How about now? Reform Immigration FOR America,” SEIU Blog, 3-3-09]

Campaign members include numerous IAF groups, the Gamaliel Foundation (yet another Alinskyian organizing network), and JustFaith and Pax Christi (two organizations engaged in a movement of Catholic dissent)…along with numerous immigrant rights groups and hosts of other groups notable for their progressive positions. The Campaign to Reform Immigration for America provides them all – from the most reasonable down to the most radical – with a set of common of talking points tailored to their constituencies, emphasizing the nightmare of families torn apart by immigration authorities and unscrupulous employees, the solid law-abidingness of these could-be citizens, and the hateful jingoism of anyone who tells a different story.

So the answer is that yes, some Catholic bishops who support the IAF or similar networks also support a legalization program for those in the United States unlawfully…and some don’t. But they may as well, considering the way in which they’ve been politically outmaneuvered.

Stephanie Block edits the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper and is a founder of the Catholic Media Coalition.



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