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Do Immigration Laws Deny Religious Freedom?

Jan 7, 2013
Miguel A. Naranjo

Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our democracy.  But what happens when the laws of our country prohibit the pursuit and participation of our Catholic faith?  A common but little discussed issue in the world of religious immigration law involves those undocumented persons who are called to religious life.  A young man or woman is called by God to become a Catholic Sister, Brother, or Priest but because of his/her immigration status, he/she is unable to fulfill the call or faces many obstacles to pursuing religious life.   A person may be turned away from a religious community or Diocese for fear of harboring an undocumented person or employing an undocumented person.   Even if a religious community or Diocese accepts a promising candidate for religious life, the risk of removal and deportation remains.  

Foreign born religious workers serve thousands of communities in the U.S. that include undocumented and legal residents.  They teach us the about the Gospels and the Sacraments and provide us spiritual support during our time of need.  They become foundations of our community and enhance our Catholic Faith in so many ways.  Yet, while the current immigration laws offer no path of legalization to millions, the effect of such laws also impact our ability to exercise our Catholic Faith by obstructing those called to religious life and denying us full participation of our Catholic Faith in the U.S.   

At CLINIC's Center for Religious Immigration and Protection, we are often asked about this issue.Sadly those seeking religious life face the same problems as their millions of undocumented brothers and sisters; without a change in the current immigration laws, the Catholic Church will lose many compassionate and inspiring persons who only wish to serve God and the Catholic faithful here in the U.S.   

As 2013 begins, however, we are hopeful that comprehensive immigration reform, reflecting the dignity and rights of immigrants, may be at long last near.  As the new Director of our section in CLINIC, I work with a dedicated group of immigration attorneys who are committed to assisting foreign born religious fulfill their calling.  We are amazed by the work our religious worker clients perform day in and day out in service to the Catholic Church .  We are excited about the new year, and the possibilities that changes in the law may allow so many others to find their religious calling.

Miguel A. Naranjo is CLINIC's new Director of the Center for Religious Immigration and Protection.