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COMMENTARY: The tragedy of America’s failed immigration system

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Photo courtesy Bob Roller, Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) The saga of immigrants in 2014 may go down in history as a blight on America. Tragedies abound, from thousands who have died trying to cross the desert from impoverished Mexican towns, to little children born here and fighting for their parents to remain in the country with them. The government is setting records separating families, approaching 2 million deportations in the past five years.

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez wants “a moratorium on any further deportations or immigration raids and arrests, except in cases of violent criminals.” In his archdiocesan newspaper, he noted that “one in every four persons who is being arrested or deported is being ripped out of their homes — taken away from their children, their wives and husbands, all their relatives.”

Children have brought him letters they had written to Pope Francis, and Gomez has sent the writings to the Vatican. He quoted from a letter from a young girl named Jersey, whose dad had been in an immigration detention center for two years and now is being deported.

“Dear Pope Francisco, Today is my birthday. My birthday wish is I would like to have my dad to be with me. … It has been so long that he hasn’t been with me on two of my birthdays, last year and today. … Since my father isn’t here my mom and sister have been trying to find a job. … Since you are the closest to God, I beg you to help my family. … Sincerely, Jersey.”

That’s heart-rending, as are accounts of the more than 6,000 people who have died in the past 15 years crossing the desert to our Land of the Free. On April 1, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and several other U.S. bishops will pray at the border wall in Nogales, Ariz., for those immigrants who have died trying to earn bread for their children. They will also pray for the family members who are without loved ones because of the deportations.

The United States loves data, but I hope it won’t be judged by its damning statistics:

  • The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has deported close to 2 million people in the past five years, an average of more than 400,000 persons a year. How many families were wrenched apart?
  • The U.S. Office of Management and Budget reports that the budget for the U.S. Border Patrol has increased tenfold since 1993, from $363 million to $3.5 billion. Given that the undocumented population has tripled since 1986 to 11 to 12 million people today, by economic standards that’s a pretty weak return on investment.
  • The Department of Homeland Security reports that as of February 2014, almost 700 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing has been completed along the U.S.-Mexico border. Perhaps that’s a boon for the confinement industry.
  • The Congressional Research Service reports that 208,939 unauthorized immigrants were prosecuted as criminals under Operation Streamline from 2005 to the end of fiscal year 2012. They are sentenced in “group” trials that provide apprehended immigrants few legal rights. Aren’t guaranteed legal rights one of the hallmarks of our democracy?
  • In fiscal year 2012, the Department of Homeland Security incarcerated more than 477,000 people, a record. Yet since 2003, about 2.5 million immigrants have been detained in the U.S. detention system. Surely they did not comprise 2.5 million threats to the U.S.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Photo courtesy Bob Roller, Catholic News Service

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Photo courtesy Bob Roller, Catholic News Service

The data shows that our nation’s effort to cope with undocumented persons does not work. It is costly, most especially, I fear, for the soul of a nation.

(Sister Mary Ann Walsh is the director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)


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  • Unfortunately the people most likely to vote according to their Catholic faith are the ones least likely to show a bit of concern for the problems of our immigration system.

    I am happy that religious groups have taken up the mantle of immigration reform. Unfortunately it gets short shrift when it comes to voting habits of their adherents. People most likely to mix religious belief and politics are conservatives. People who tend to use immigration as a way to make racist appeals in a sub rosa fashion to garner votes. Willful ignorance is more the norm than exception on this subject. The people most opposed to immigration reform are the ones least familiar with the system.

  • Not true, ted cruz is the son of an immigrant from cuba. His dad came into us bribing people along the way. Ted is the champion of SAY NO TO Immigration reform. After all he does not have to beg congress to legalize his father, having pased through the door, ted cruz want the door shut and the key thrown away. He is the most vocsl against immigrants.

  • “At one time or another, acceleration of population growth . . . has been sought by militarists in need of cannon fodder, by rulers in search of hegemonic expansion, by industrialists in want of cheap and docile labor, by ECCLESIASTICAL SPOKESMEN in search of souls, and by land and other speculators hungering for unearned increment.” Joseph J Spengler

    ” . . . the greatest destroyers of man’s options are the growth and excessive concentration of population.” Joseph J Spengler

  • There seem to be a lot of people who believe Obama can just deport 11 million people with a snap of his finger, but he’s so evil that he’s keeping them here.

    All I know is that there is a girl that goes to school with my daughter who found out that she wasn’t born here about 2 years ago. She’s not well off, living in a studio apt with her mom. (dad’s long gone) She’s now in 5th grade. Almost a straight A student. Fluent in english and chinese.

    Yet still, there are people who go to church every Sunday, but feel it would be perfectly fine to Deport this girl and her mom.

    I’m glad the Catholic church is starting to support the individual rather than support politicians. I’m glad the new pope is more concerned with helping people than condemning them.

    I just wish the evangelical community could follow suit, and be less hateful in their political views.

  • I always joke to the nativist crowd that there are only 2 governments who were any good at deporting millions at a time. Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR.

    It gets really vicious when discussing the DREAM act. There are people who want to tell youth willing to contribute to society and even die for our country that they are some kind of criminal scum. Its just malice incarnate

  • This is what I call the “Judge Dredd” argument. Someone saying “the law is the law” but is completely unaware of what those laws are. Not exactly the most intelligent argument to make in a democracy. A nation where nobody is supposed to take our laws as a given without some justification.

    Its interesting that the website is a link to an immigration lawyer website which discusses reform. Shilling for customers?