Dear friends of CLINIC,
I write these words as I have just finished three days with about 100,000 Vietnamese Catholic pilgrims who meet in Carthage, Missouri, every year to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Snows. They have gathered here for almost 40 years, since 1978, at the headquarters of the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer. It has been a personal blessing to pray and celebrate our faith with many friends from Fort Worth, Texas, Orange, California and elsewhere. The days were filled with prayer and liturgical celebrations like Masses and processions, as well as education and family celebrations. The tremendous crowds of Vietnamese young people who were so engaged in the events of these days greatly impressed me.
So many of the folks came united as families when they arrived as refugees to Camp Pendleton, California, and Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. Barely surviving the escapes by boat, many came fearful, frightened, but confident of the Lord, and His mother who were guiding them. Many of them did not know English and had little, if any resources. However, they did bring their faith and confidence, as well, in the citizens of United States who would welcome them!
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, they have proven to be tremendous citizens who contribute to the welfare of our communities – in some ways far beyond those of us who were born here! I have witnessed firsthand, both in Fort Worth, Texas, and Orange, California, their contribution to the common good in so many ways. Their family unity has been a blessing to them and to others wherever they have gone.
This witness, which I and countless others have seen and experience, is certainly a stark contrast to the recently proposed RAISE legislation. This legislation belies the good that has been done by folks who arrived here with little – in the way of resources and English-speaking ability – and yet who have transformed our communities and lives. It seeks to cap immigration such that we would not be able to respond to humanitarian crises.
Throughout the history of the United States, the family has been the cornerstone of our immigration policies. Family-based immigrants have contributed much to our economy and innovation, including Silicon Valley companies. However, the RAISE Act would damage this most fundamental cell of society by limiting the protections heretofore granted to families, including limiting green cards for family reunification by almost 50 percent and restricting them to spouses and children. In other words, an adult child would be unable to sponsor her parents.
The RAISE Act claims to return immigration to historic levels. However, given the increase in our population, the bill actually reduces immigration to 0.14 percent, far below our historic average level immigration at 0.45 percent, as averaged for the last 150 years, according to the Cato Institute.
Sadly, this legislation reflects nativist and WASP tendencies, which are deeply rooted in the history of the United States.
I experienced this reality in a recent celebration at a parish when someone shouted out to the lector at Mass, "Speak English, you are in the United States." The rest of the congregation was aghast and supported her, a Hispanic woman who cares for a handicapped child. I concluded this bi-lingual celebration with a reflection on the four marks of the Church (one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic), which teach us that before all we as Catholics are universal --- people of faith before any nationality! At the same time, this faith helps us to be more active citizens wherever we live, overcoming adversity, learning new languages and creating new opportunities to serve God and others.
The United States is a country with incredible means, perhaps the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin.” (n. 2241)
Surely, we have the means to be generous to those in need of a home. Most of our own families were in similar situations when they first came to the United States. We have been given much. We are more than able to see and respond to Christ in the stranger.
Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange is the chairman of CLINIC’s Board of Directors.