A Church of Accompaniment

A Statement on the Immigration Policies of the United States By the Community of St. Joseph Catholic Church

24 March 2018

Today—the 38th anniversary of the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop, Blessed Oscar Romero—the members of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Seattle proclaim our unwavering solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the immigrant community, whose lives and security have been placed at risk through the unjust policies and actions of the United States Government. We stand with the Dreamers of DACA and all those whose long presence has enriched our nation—as workers and tax-payers, as honest though undocumented members of this community. We stand, joined by our sisters and brothers in the Jesuit network, by various Christian communities, and by numerous women and men of goodwill. And we pledge to become better companions to our undocumented sisters and brothers through on-going education, through more faithful accompaniment, and through tireless advocacy. Moved by the blood of Oscar Romero and by the example of so many other martyrs of justice, we offer ourselves in service: for our love of God calls us, our love of our neighbor impels us, and our love for our country summons us to do what we can to right this injustice and stand with those under threat. As Blessed Oscar notes, “When we struggle for human rights, for freedom, for dignity, when we feel that it is a ministry of the church to concern itself for those who are hungry, for those who have no schools, for those who are deprived, we are not departing from God’s promise. . . The church knows it is saving the world when it undertakes to speak also of such things.”

Who We Are

St. Joseph Parish is a Catholic community of nearly 1,900 households, composed of people from across the Seattle metropolitan area. Founded by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) more than a century ago, St. Joseph welcomes all women and men of good will—young and old, rich and poor, married and single, gay and straight, immigrant and native born—into a community of discernment and faith. We are diverse in our politics and our histories; yet, we are united in our desire to be the Church described by Pope Francis: “a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church that accompanies them on their journey.”

This spirit of accompaniment, built on our faith and our communion with all the sisters and brothers of Jesus, unites us in opposition to the current federal policy of detaining and deporting otherwise law-abiding, hard-working undocumented immigrants, especially those brought to this country as children without their consent. As a community composed primarily of the children and grandchildren of immigrants, we speak with one voice when we call for an end to this punitive and indiscriminate deportation policy, which stands today in flagrant opposition to Catholic Social Teaching, to basic principles of justice, and to the common good.

Why We Object

Numerous cases could be sited to illustrate the perverse and destructive ways in which the current immigration system violates principles of justice in the name of mere legality. For example, we might consider the story of Angel Ortiz Paz, who was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers outside his house while preparing to go to work. The officers were looking for two other men, but asked Paz about his immigration status nonetheless—as his wife and two young children, all American citizens, waited inside the house. Running a background check on Paz, they found a 9-year-old DUI conviction and a 16-year-old deportation order; so they handcuffed him and arrested him, in the presence of his family. He was deported back to Honduras without any chance of appeal. Or there is the well-known case of Jorge Garcia, a married father of two who had been brought to the U.S. by undocumented family members, and who had repeatedly tried to regularize his immigration status. Though guilty of no crime, ICE deported Garcia on Martin Luther King Day, saying that they had previously “exercised prosecutorial discretion,” that they now were voiding. Without concern for the effect on innocent families or communities, such actions—despite their legality—contradict any reasonable standard of justice and run contrary to the moral principles that are fundamental to a just society.

Grounded on the irreducible value of the human person, Catholic Social Teaching proclaims that every woman or man has a right to life, and to the means to sustain that life. Further, this tradition teaches that the things of the earth—including private property, economic capital, and even nation states—exist to foster and promote the common good (i.e., the good of reason), and so must be bound by fundamental principles of justice and equity. Thus, while national sovereignty is a valuable good, rightfully protected through reasonable measures of immigration and border control, no nation has the right to the type of destructive and brutal enforcement measures currently employed in the United States—measures which fracture family structures, wrench peaceable persons from work and community, deny basic rights of counsel to the detained (including children as young as 5), and punish those who had no active role in committing the offense of unlawful migration. Such actions violate the human dignity of migrants and undermine the principles of justice and due process upon which our country is founded.

Furthermore, as they are presently applied—and as the Administration seeks to amend them—U.S. immigration policies do not take into account the intrinsic value of the family, which Catholic Social Teaching reminds us is foundational of all human society. Instead, punishing with particular severity the poor and vulnerable, and reducing family life to the pejorative of chain migration,” these proposed “reforms” would even further undercut the human rights of migrants, creating a system in which only a nuclear family of means could find a welcome in the United States. Such a vision is inconsistent with the gospel, and with the long tradition of this country, which was built by generations of poor immigrants. Taught by Christ that we are in solidarity, especially with the poor, we must oppose, through every means at our disposal, such policies.

What We Ask and What We Promise

So it is that the community of St. Joseph Catholic Church declares today that we stand at the side of our immigrant sisters and brothers, who seek justice and safety in the land they have made their own. We ask our political leaders to join us in this work and in this commitment, using all the powers entrusted to them, for the common good, even when that may not seem politically expedient. We ask our civic leaders—police and immigration officers, civil servants, etc.—to use the discretion they have been given to ensure justice, and to discern well the moral obligation at the root of their service.

For our part, we commit ourselves to become better educated, that we might more fully understand the causes of the current strife, and the structures that imperil immigrants. We pledge ourselves to advocacy, that we might use the power given to us as a strong and vital community for the good of those left voiceless. And above all, we pledge to accompany with humility, first those endangered by current policies—the poor, the displaced, the threatened; but also those who shape or enforce immigration policies, insofar as they are willing to engage with us. Motivated by the humanism and love at the center of the gospel, may we make our nation a place not just secure in its borders, but secure in its principles, now and for years to come.