By Christopher Wells
The Bishops of the United States are calling on American Catholics to reflect on the immigration stories of their own families, and the stories of new immigrants to the country.
The Executive Director for the Bishops’ Office of Migration and Refugee Services, Bill Canny, says the theme of this year’s Week – Many Journeys, One Family – “draws attention to the fact that each of our families has a migration story in America… and that regardless of where we are and where we came from, we remain, as the Holy Father has continually reminded us, part of the human family, and that we are called to live in solidarity with one another.” The theme reminds Catholics that “we are called to stand with the many journeys of the new American immigrants and refugees as our brothers and sisters.”
Speaking with Vatican News, Canny said it’s important for immigrants and members of the receiving communities to reflect with one another, to be together, and to share their stories.
Canny identified a number of concrete issues relating to immigration that the American Bishops are addressing, notably the status of so-called dreamers – young people who were born in the United States or brought to the country at a young age, and whose status in the country is at risk.
He spoke, too, about the large number of “unauthorized immigrants” – immigrants who have entered the country without following the normal path for legal immigration. Canny noted that there are approximately ten or eleven million unauthorized migrants in the United States, a situation he called “unacceptable.” For this reason, he said, the U.S. Bishops have encouraged Americans “to come up with clear legal pathways for immigrants.”
Family-based immigration is also a priority for the Bishops, Canny said, especially in light of new calls in the country to curtail it. The Bishops’ have insisted strongly that U.S. “migration policy and practice should remain family-based.”
Asked about the importance of making prudential decisions that protect the rights of citizens of the receiving country, Canny said that the right of nations to control their borders is “one of the Catholic principles of migration,” which Pope Francis has re-iterated. “Our Bishops absolutely support that,” Canny said. “We’re certainly not open for open borders.” But, he said, the Bishops are also “very concerned” for migrants – like refugees – who need protection. “So there is a balance that needs to be found here,” he said, pointing to ongoing debates in the U.S. Congress.
During this year’s National Migration Week, the U.S. Bishops, Canny said, “want us… to think about our own immigration history and to look at others, perhaps in a different way, and in the way that the Holy Father says, with a contemplative gaze, with a gaze which thinks not just about that person that we’re looking at, but also their story – and to share that, and try and share those two stories together, and find the ways that we are bound together.”