WSJ: “Immigration and the Pope From the New World”

by Joseph McKeown

Amid the continued heated rhetoric about immigration and immigrants among the presidential contenders—and especially from Donald Trump who introduced an anti-immigration platform—many are wondering how Pope Francis (who just landed in the US this afternoon) will address the issue of immigration in his historic and much anticipated papal visit to the United States.

Will the Pope Encourage Immigration Reform?

In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, the Most Rev. José H. Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles and author of Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation, believes that the pope will use his brief time in the US to encourage immigration reform. A sign of this is his decision to canonize America’s first Hispanic saint, Junípero Serra, a Franciscan who spent nearly forty years in the mid-1700s “spreading the Gospel, defending the native peoples, and laying the foundations for a vibrant civil society and Christian civilization, first in Mexico and later in California.”

Noting that Pope Francis is himself the son of an immigrant father—who fled fascism in Italy to settle in Argentina—the archbishop believes the pope understands that “the immigrant spirit is a wellspring for economic and moral revitalization,” and consequently the pope is “hoping to inspire Americans to rediscover their nation’s Hispanic and Christian foundations—at a moment in our history when these foundations are being put to the test.” He goes on:

We see this in the protracted debates over immigration reform, with their undeniable racial undertones. These debates have exposed deep apprehensions about our national self-identity—caused not only by the presence of millions of undocumented Hispanics but also by the uncertainties of globalization and the country’s changing racial and ethnic profile.

100 Women, 100 Miles

While not everyone is thrilled with the canonization of Junípero Serra—some activists hold Serra responsible for the enslavement and deaths of numerous indigenous people and as a person “emblematic of the dangers of colonialism” and are strongly against the canonization—many other US clergy and immigration reform activists are also hoping that Francis’ congressional visit could lead “to the beginning of an honest debate of how to fix the broken immigration system.” In a recent press conference in Washington D.C., activists and clergy from numerous faiths expressed their hope that Congress will heed the pope’s message. “We don’t know what the Holy Father [will say]… but he’s been a strong defender for persons on the move—immigrants, refugees, trafficking victims,” Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, D.C., said at the press conference.  

A group of female immigration activists is walking to Washington D.C. and hope their message will be heard by Pope Francis. Organized by We Belong Together, a non-profit immigration organization, the march is called 100 Women, 100 Miles, and includes numerous activists, such as Rosi Carrasco, an undocumented immigrant from Chicago. “The pope represents for us a hope for dignity and respect,” she said in the Patriot News. “I think he will listen to our stories and our message…I hope the people in this country will hear that things need to be different and people need to be treated with dignity.”

The Pope’s Record on Immigration

Pope Francis has a strong record of speaking out for immigrants and migrants. He has called on Europe and the United States as well as Catholic parishes, convents, and monasteries to aid Syrian migrants. And he warned European lawmakers: “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!”

While he will not be visiting the US-Mexico border as originally hoped too, he does plan to meet with immigrants (some undocumented) on his America tour. He is expected to be, at the very least, the “anti-Donald Trump.”