Mercy for the Immigrant and the Refugee
The readings this week are about the contingency of forgiveness. While we might like to think that God’s mercy is unconditional, that is not what we learn from Christ and the Scriptures. Instead, we hear again and again “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Sirach tells us, “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” And likewise, if we fail to forgive, then we ourselves will not be forgiven. Jesus describes the sentence in his parable today: “‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” The measure of God’s mercy, it seems, is only limited by our unwillingness to show mercy to others. Think of what a curse we pray upon ourselves if we fail to forgive others and then dare to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In all things, we should err on the side of mercy.
Think about this in terms of immigration. One of the most common critiques—the one that leads to demands to build a wall on our southern border—is that immigrants often come into the United States illegally. If only they would obey the law, then, ostensibly, the critics would be satisfied. There is no doubt that immigration law in the U.S. is a part of the problem. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that it is never okay to break the law, except to obey a higher law. Fleeing poverty, violence, and oppression, undocumented immigrants often implicitly appeal to a higher law when seeking a better life here. A protracted immigration process is simply impractical to those whose lives are at stake. Migrants risk a perilous journey and then the possibility of being deported and/or despised for breaking U.S. laws. If you are not in this position, imagine yourself in it. Wouldn’t you take these risks as well in order to save your loved ones?
There are about 800,000 young people living in the U.S. as “Dreamers”—the beneficiaries of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) protection, which recognizes that young people brought into the country as children are not responsible for the law-breaking of their parents. For many or most of them, America is the only country they have known. This is their homeland. We gain nothing by deporting them. And additionally, tearing families apart seems to be a decidedly NON pro-life and pro-family approach.
For the Dreamers, DACA status represented mercy. The Administration has now ended DACA (no new enrollment in the program; and unless Congress acts, no decision about current and future Dreamers for six months). It seems it is up to Congress to extend mercy to these young people. Contact your representatives to let them know where you stand on this important issue. The Catholic Church has been one of the loudest voices in favor of extending protection to immigrants, including especially immigrant youth and families. Scripture, after all, is clear: “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21) and, in positive terms, “You shall also love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Moreover, Jesus identified Himself with the stranger, saying in reference to our final judgment, “I was… a stranger and you welcomed me… Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34-35).
There is plenty of room for political difference in deciding on prudent ways to extend mercy to the stranger while also doing the work of protecting our borders and ensuring, as best we can, that nobody comes in who wishes us harm. Neither major party has a hold on the truth, and communication and compromise are required. Neither party wants the country to be harmed. Neither party wants to see human rights violated and human lives destroyed. Working together, we should be able to find a way forward. That way may include instances where amnesty is offered, such as DACA. Far from being a bad word, from a Catholic point of view, “amnesty” might well be seen as an expression of mercy—the very mercy that Christ warns us to have lest we be denied mercy in our own judgment as well.