Where Would America Be Without Immigrants?


My last name is German. My relatives left Germany in the 1860s to flee the pre-KulturKampf spirit of Bismarck. My first name is from an Irish name. Those relatives fled an economic and religious persecution in the 1840s.

Every time I see a black person, he probably could trace his ancestry back hundreds of years before mine. In the Southwest I could find Hispanics whose relatives came at the same time as the Mayflower! America has a long history of taking in diversified peoples and races, including the poor and wounded of the world.

In fact, the whole of recorded human history is about migrations, of how people and races have moved from one region to another in search of a better life. These kinds of treks are older than Abraham leaving Ur.

Yet why does one sense that a new wave of a veiled xenophobia is happening once again in the land of Immigrants? I saw a newspaper article which was complaining about a new wave of immigrants who continue to speak their own language, stick to their culture and music, their types of food and dance etc. The article was first published in Chicago in the 1890s, complaining about the Germans!

Where would America be today without the influence all the diverse peoples and cultures brought to our shores? Irish and Chinese workers who helped to complete the Trans-continental railroad. The inspiration of Eastern European Jewish music (e.g. George Gershwin). Jazz and the Blues. Von Braun. Einstein. Madeleine Albright. Irving Berlin. St. Frances X Cabrini. Joseph Pulitzer. Felix Frankfurter. Just to name a few.

If we are going to guarantee a steady source of new blood and talents, there is an urgent need for a just Immigration Reform which is human. We need to return to our roots and recapture the energy that built up this country, not be afraid of those whose color of skin, or the slant of their eyes or the language they speak is different.

Cardinal Roger Mahoney, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, said a few years ago, go ahead and get rid of all those illegals whom everyone is complaining about. Deport them, send them back home. But then, there will be no one left to fix the roads, repair the roofs, do the laundry, wash the dishes in the restaurants, cut the grass, etc.

If there are not enough foreign workers to harvest the crops, you had better pray for good weather in Chile or elsewhere if you want to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

Bishop Blair of Toledo, Ohio, reminds us that we should “never forget the fundamental moral principles that flow from both faith and reason” for Immigration Reform.

For instance, one principle is that “people have a right to a decent life in their own homeland … but if that fails, people also have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families, just as so many of our ancestors did.

“Another principle is the rule of law and the right that sovereign nations like the United States have to control their own borders, but this does not abolish the duty every country has … to respect the basic human dignity and human rights of every immigrant, even the undocumented’.

Thus St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (2:19) “in Christ you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.” Whether you hold any religious beliefs or not, we are all in this together. That is why in the Bible the People of God were frequently reminded to take good care of the foreigner, treat him or her well because they had once been foreigners while in Egypt. How dangerous when one forgets one’s own history.

In a 2005 document the (Catholic) Church explained its stands on Immigration Reform: “Catholic bishops support neither illegal immigration nor an “amnesty” to pardon those who reside without proper authorization. Instead the church prefers a softer approach … It seems to want to ensure that foreign nationals of “good character” can earn a legitimate status, families can be together and needy workers are given a chance to gain employment legally. The church supports restoration of due-process rights to those in America without proper permission, withdrawn in 1996 (cf. Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act). This would mean that immigrants in trouble with the law would once again have the right to a lawyer etc.”

Immigration Reform is also necessary to relieve millions from an economic slavery where they have no rights to appeal miserable salaries, sometimes withheld. Once we take people out of an invisible social darkness and bring them into the full light of liberty (which does not have to mean full citizenship immediately) many abuses will be mitigated and reduced.

Archbishop Garcia-Siller of San Antonio complains that “Immigration reform has evolved from an honest discussion about national security, to a partisan politics issue, thus blinding some Americans from seeing immigrants as suffering people who live among us.” Who is especially hurt in all this are the children, pawns in an economic and social war.

Bishop Chaput of Philadelphia, not regarded as ultra-liberal, believes that “most undocumented immigrants in the United States – the vast majority — never commit a violent act, have no desire to undermine the common good and contribute productively to American prosperity. Thousands of farmers and businessmen rely on their services.  The life many of us enjoy depends, in part, on the labor of ‘illegals.’” 

However it is not just the Catholic Church or some evangelical denominations and other faith groups who are supporting an immigration overhaul. Look no farther than that hot bed of liberal thinking in the US Chamber of Commerce and also many agricultural and hotel industry leaders who maintain that incorporating undocumented immigrants into the American way of life is not only good for them but also for the country!

The fact is that the well-being and strength of our economy has always depended upon the (cheap) labor which immigrants bring. Let us begin to reward the newest members for their efforts.

Father Donnell Kirchner, CSsR, of Liguori, Mo., received a degree in moral theology in Rome and taught for 39 years as a Redemptorist priest in Brazil. He currently travels around the USA preaching.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2014


Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652