"I don't care if they are legal or illegal. You don't tear families apart like this. The women and children we're taking care of right now are no more criminal than people driving down the street breaking the speed limit."
Father Paul Oudekirk, St. Bridget's Church, Postville, Iowa
It's pretty clear that the United States' immigration policy and practice is a disaster in almost every sense. Besides not working, it causes serious hardship and harm to the affected immigrants and to U.S. citizens. A case in point is that of the small community of Postville, Iowa. There's a large kosher meatpacking plant there which was a real economic boon to the town, and affected it in other interesting ways in terms of cultural and ethnic conflicts as well. In 2001, Stephen Bloom wrote a really interesting book about this:
Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America
Harvest Books , 2001
In May, 2008 the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency raided the plant and arrested hundreds of undocumented workers. They were treated shabbily, denied due process, and families were torn apart by subsequent deportations.
Here's what the Catholic Chruch teaches:
The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected. Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.
From Strangers No Longer, 2003
The loss of so many workers eventually caused the plant to fall into bankruptcy, and the town is still reeling from the economic impact of that. People are unable to pay their rents, and as recently as two weeks ago when the winter weather brought temperatures down below zero, some landlords were evicting people nevertheless, according to Fr. Paul Oudekirk, retired pastor of St. Bridget's Catholic Church there. Read an interview with him. I talked to him on the phone in early January, and he said the situation is still quite critical there. Some assistance grants were available from the federal government, but there are restrictions on those that exclude many of the people most in need of help. Because of this, St. Bridget's established a Hispanic Ministry Fund, and is helping to find housing and other emergency assistance for many people. They are in serious need of contributions, large and small. If you would like to make a contribution,
send a check made out to Hispanic Ministry Fund to:
St. Bridget's Catholic Church
135 W Williams St
Postville, IA 52162
There's a good article about Postville in this week's Time Magazine as well.
We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us. The treatment of migrants challenges the consciences of elected officials, policymakers, enforcement officers, residents of border communities, and providers of legal aid and social services, many of whom share our Catholic faith.
Our common faith in Jesus Christ moves us to search for ways that favor a spirit of solidarity. It is a faith that transcends borders and bids us to overcome all forms of discrimination and violence so that we may build relationships that are just and loving.
Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people.
When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.
From Strangers No Longer, 2003
Many Jewish groups and organizations have also made contributions to St. Bridget's in recent months, recognizing that the parish there is in the best position to provide direct assistance to the people most directly affected.