December 7, 2021 // Perspective

An Advent plea for immigration reform

How long? Until when? These questions are common during Advent as Christians reflect on the meaning of the final coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ. From the depths of our hearts we proclaim, “Maranatha,” come, Lord Jesus.

As we wait with vigilant hope, our lives unfold in the here and now of history. We must raise families, study, work, pay bills and make sure that we all live well. This also entails a concern for the good of others.

Hearing the questions “How long? Until when?” on the lips of millions of immigrants in our nation who long to be affirmed, seek to regularize their migratory status, and hope to reunite with their loved ones or remove obstacles to thrive as part of the American dream, calls for some pause.

This is what Advent invites us to do: Take pause. We pause from the hastiness of our lives to reflect and listen. We pause to ponder how we live in relationship with God and others.

As I take pause this Advent, I reflect particularly on the lives of the nearly 45 million immigrants living in our country, about 13.7% of the entire U.S. population: women and men, moms and dads, sisters and brothers, neighbors who live among us and worship with us in our faith communities.

To speak of immigrants also implies speaking of their spouses, children, relatives, friends and coworkers. Their lives are profoundly intertwined with ours.

I commend the Center for Migration Studies in New York, established by the Scalabrinians and run with a profound Catholic spirit, for their advocacy and commitment to providing data that can help us understand the reality of all migrants in the United States and throughout the world.

Looking at one of the center’s data tools, we learn that as of 2019, there were about 11 million undocumented immigrants living with us. Nearly 75% come from Latin America and the Caribbean, thus we can safely assume that most are Roman Catholic.

About 58% have lived in this country more than 10 years; 23.3% more than 20 years. About 26% arrived prior to the age of 16. Nearly 60% completed high school, 33% have some college education and 18.3% completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. About 78.3% are older than 25.

Attention to this particular sector of the immigrant population is crucial since they are among the most vulnerable in our midst. Their poverty rates are high; about half do not have health insurance.

How long and until when must our immigrant sisters and brothers, especially those in irregular migratory status, live under the shadows of our legal and socioeconomic systems?

Before anyone retorts saying that “they can go back home,” please read the statistics above: The U.S. is their home! They are part of who we are.

We need immigration reforms that lead to legal migratory status regularization, pathways to citizenship for young immigrants currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a more efficient system to reunite families and to stop incarcerating immigrants seeking a better life, among others.

A new election cycle approaches and our polarized leaders seem to be getting ready to play political football with the lives of immigrants and refugees — again. Catholics should hold our ground and denounce that practice. We must refuse to participate in such games.

Catholics should be at the forefront of a movement calling for serious immigration reform. Let us heed the voice of Pope Francis who incessantly calls us to welcome Christ in the immigrant and refugee. Take a pause this Advent and think about what you can do.

Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.

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