Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Priest-Thoughts on Immigration

Mexico's Lady of Guadalupe

Recently a lady wrote to a Catholic diocesan newspaper encouraging the readers to heed Mr. Trump's immigration policies: I'll build a wall which Mexico will pay for, and we'll charge Mexico ten-thousand dollars for each illegal immigrant they send our way. 

I emailed a response but the newspaper didn't print my letter, so I thought I'd put it up here. In this country everything is fair game, you can put forward just about any idea, question or proposal so long as it doesn't threaten or menace. So the questions surrounding Mr. Trump's immigration plans are legitimate, but he's a businessman and I'm a Catholic priest. Here's my letter:

Dear Editor: I have a few thoughts to share responding to Ms Salerno's August 1st letter encouraging a greater attentiveness to Donald Trump's immigration proposals. Ms Salerno writes: "It is so refreshing to have someone stand up and tell it like it is."
Well of course we feel this way when the person's "telling it like it is" resonates with my own beliefs. "My sentiments exactly" we say. And then she tells us that Mr. Trump " saying what the ordinary citizen is saying and thinking." We must be very careful - truth be told, Mr. Trump is saying what some ordinary citizens are saying and thinking. Not everyone. 
Such energy and time we're investing in the question of illegal immigration (which of course, let us speak plainly, means Mexican and Central Americans, not Canadians or any other nationality). "Are you legal?" might well be a question, but it isn't a Jesus question. In Matthew 25: 31-46 Jesus has told us what the questions are: "Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Do you need a place to stay? Do you need clothes? Are you sick? Would you like someone to visit you in prison?"The Ronald Knox translation of the New Testament doesn't read, "When I was a stranger you welcomed me," instead it says, "When I was as stranger, you took me home." Yikes!
Instead of "Are you legal?" we might ask: "Mexican mom, do your children need school clothes and shoes? Tell me their sizes." "Guatemalan mom, are your children going to school having had a good breakfast? Can I help?" "Mexican dad, I know someone who has digging to do in his yard and no one else is interested in the job, are you?"
I was a pastor on Long Island where seemingly every lawn is maintained by Mexican and Salvadoran men. I became friendly with this team of fellows who cut the grass, and when in early November they were still on the job, I asked them if they knew Our Lady of Guadalupe and would they like to come to the big fiesta we were having on her December 12th feast day? "You're far away from home, would you like to join us for prayers, food, singing and dancing?" 
Instant family! Jesus gives us the questions in Matthew 25.


  1. Do you truly believe that there should be no limits or controls on immigration? Is that even realistic? Illegal immigrants diminish the efforts of those who arrive by following our immigration laws. I believe Jesus would want a system that is fair, and one that would protect its citizens. One that would not harm ANY nation's health, security, culture, or ability to help their own people in need. i.e. employment, education, security, and overall well-being. No other country in the world allows more immigrants than the United States. We are just asking that it be reasonable, fair, safe, and secure. The greatness of America is built on the shoulders of legal immigrants. We are a country of laws, not chaos. Americans are the most charitable people on earth. No other country aids and provides relief to other countries in need more than The United States of America.

    1. I don't allow this blog to become contentious so I won't enter into argument about anything you've said here. There are other blogs and stations (radio and TV) that enjoy that kind of thing. I'm simply reminding us of what Jesus has to say in Matthew 25. And what Jesus has to say is often disquieting. But there's no way around it. You indicate, "I believe Jesus would want a system that is fair..." Remember the parable about the guy who gives the same pay to those who worked an hour as those who worked all day in the heat? That's not very fair - indeed, that's their gripe with the owner. We can't fit the gospel into any system or politic - even America's.

  2. I do see your point in the need for kindness. But a line has to drawn at some point when the people who work legally, pay taxes and pay for their health care support the illegal immigrants and even those here legally who work for cash without declaring an income and getting hospital care for nothing. Yes, everyone is entitled to good care, but should it be at the expense of the ordinary citizen? Some of us barely scrape by on what we earn after we pay all the payroll taxes. I feel for the immigrant, but I also see the point for everyone being here legally.

  3. People immigrate generally to work. While I’m sure there are exceptions, people generally move if they see the possibility of jobs. Social services might attract people, too. So I can’t discount the argument that people come to the US because there is better health care and better schools. But that motivation mingles with the availability of jobs. And these include jobs that others don't want to do. Both sides can be argued. I will just focus on your comment above about being more like Jesus in my thoughts.

  4. You are a good man Father Morris!!
    Was thinking of you today, the kids and I went at 3am to a school field to watch the meteor shower. It was beautiful but I was thinking you probably had a great view at your place!!

  5. Nobody said we must be mean or uncaring of the immigrants. However we do need immigration laws. The problem isn't with people who immigrate here legally, the problem is with those that cross the border illegally or stay here illegally. Laws must be in place and enforced as in other countries. We cannot support everyone. But we can still show kindness and generosity to our neighbors. There will never be a solution that pleases everyone. We just have to do what is right in our own hearts as Christians.

  6. Mexicans come here to make a better life for himself. Maybe they would come here legally if this country would come up with a better plan for them to do it. It needs to be cheaper, and faster. I'm sure that if any one of us had to live like them, we would be jumping across the border in a heartbeat!!!

  7. As teacher in a diverse school on Long Island, NY, I am faced with many immigrant children each year. It makes no difference to me whether they are here legally or illegally. I only ask of them to do their best to give themselves the opportunity for a better life. Their parents work two and three jobs each just to put food on the table while the older kids are left to mind their younger siblings. If you ever feel the need to get a better understanding of these 'illegal' immigrants, watch the movie Underwater Dreams, a story of how the sons of undocumented Mexican immigrants learned how to build an underwater robot using the most basic supplies and go up against an affluent MIT team. It's an eye-opener. You will remember that every child deserves the best chance they can have regardless of what borders they have crossed. We don't choose our lots in life, but we have to live them.

  8. When a group of illegals start cat calling at you when you walk by, I'd like to see you ask them to dinner. You think you know what it is like because as a priest you invited a few landscapers to a party? I think you should take a better loom at how their presence affects us all. I agree with the comment above. America is built by LEGAL immigrants who pay their taxes and count in the census. Most of us proudly come from thsee families.

  9. I guess you're a lady because you reference "cat calls." I lived in Assisi, Italy for some months and one day, walking up the hills wearing a cassock, a contractor working a cement mixer turned a hose on me. I didn't invite him to dinner, but I got over it - my world didn't end. Listen, I"m just the messenger, you'll have to take up your argument with Jesus. You'd like the priest to say, "Jesus didn't really mean what he said." It's interesting too that I could more easily make claims here that Jesus is not divine, that Mary wasn't a virgin, that heaven is make believe than even breathe the words "gun control" and/or "immigration." You've got (I've got) to take it up with Jesus.