January 26, 2007

Archbishop shares immigration vision with lawmakers

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein greets newly elected State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster, Ind. Rep. Candelaria Reardon is a member of the Indiana Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs. (Photo by Charles Schisla)

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein greets newly elected State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon of Munster, Ind. Rep. Candelaria Reardon is a member of the Indiana Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs. (Photo by Charles Schisla)

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, chairman of the board of the Indiana Catholic Conference, shared his vision of welcoming immigrants with Indiana lawmakers during a Jan. 17 ICC legislative luncheon at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis.

“Immigration reform is not only a complex, but a controversial issue,” Archbishop Buechein told the lawmakers.

Quoting from the Indiana bishops’ recently released pastoral “I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me: Meeting Christ in New Neighbors,” the archbishop said, “We Catholic bishops of Indiana recommit ourselves and our dioceses to welcoming others as Christ himself. We embrace an authentic and enduring form of Hoosier hospitality that goes beyond superficial slogans to the heart of what it means to be a community of faith.

“In the Gospels, we learn that our neighbor is anyone who is in need—including those who are homeless, hungry, sick or in prison. A neighbor may well be a complete stranger whose background, experience or social standing is very different from ours,” Archbishop Buechlein said.

“As a Catholic community, we vigorously support our nation’s right and responsibility to provide secure borders, but we reject positions or policies that are anti-immigrant, nativist, ethnocentric or racist,” he continued. “Such divisive and exclusionary attitudes are also profoundly anti-Catholic because they deny the

dignity of human persons who are made in God’s image. They also contradict the essential unity and catholicity to which we are called as members of the one family of God.”

Rep. Mike Murphy (R-Indianapolis), who led the fight against anti-immigration legislation in 2006, said, “The pastoral letter by the Indiana bishops and the archbishop’s talk absolutely hit the mark. The Gospel passage of Matthew 25 quoted by the archbishop today is the essential guiding principle on this whole issue of immigration reform. The problem we have is there are a lot of people who have nativist motives, and it will take time and education as the Indiana bishops are doing to change minds.” Rep. Murphy is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis.

Another legislator, Sen. John Broden (D-South Bend), felt immigration reform would be better handled in Washington.

“I’d prefer to see a federal response to immigration reform rather than a patchwork of 50 states enacting different laws, which is not really an effective way to deal with the issue,” Sen. Broden said. “In general, I do support a guest worker provision, and think we should take steps to provide immigrants a legal road to obtain citizenship. I was very happy to hear the remarks of Archbishop Buechlein and the call by the Indiana bishops for compassionate treatment of immigrants.

“We have a Christian responsibility to provide a compassionate and coherent response to immigrants rather than being punitive,” added Sen. Broden, who is a member of Holy Cross Parish in South Bend, Ind., in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese.

During the 2006 legislative session, Hoosier lawmakers considered a

driver’s certificate bill which would have given undocumented immigrants a driver’s certificate to drive legally in Indiana.

“I am very sympathetic toward immigrants, and I certainly understand and appreciate the desire immigrants have to come to America for a better life, as many of our grandparents did,” said Sen Richard Young (D-Milltown), but the lawmaker added he has difficulty with the idea of granting legal documents, like a driver’s license, to illegal immigrants. The driver’s certificate bill failed last year.

Sen. Bob Deig (D-Mount Vernon) had a different perspective.

“Let’s face it, we are all immigrants,” he said. “We have to be sensitive toward the immigrant and work together to strike a balance between placing limits on non-citizens while at the same time finding a way for immigrants to become citizens.” Sen. Deig is a member of St. Phillip Parish in D-Mount Vernon, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese.

Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon (D- Munster), who attended the luncheon, said, “For the most part, immigration reform is a federal issue. It is premature to pass legislation until the federal government does.”

Regarding the archbishop’s presentation, Rep. Candelaria Reardon, who is a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Munster, Ind., in the Diocese of Gary, said, “It’s nice to see the Catholic Church extending a welcoming hand to the immigrant community.”

Another Catholic legislator, Sen. Jeff Drozda (R-Westfield), said, “I support helping the immigrants become citizens as long as they want to become citizens. The federal government has really dropped the ball on this issue and they expect the states to act.” Sen. Drozda is a member of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Westfield, Ind., in the Diocese of Lafayette.

One immigration reform bill being considered by the Indiana General Assembly is House Bill 1253, known as the employment of illegal aliens’ measure. Authored by Rep. Vern Tincher

(D-Terre Haute), the bill would place sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers. It passed the Indiana House Committee on Veterans Affairs and Public Safety by an 8-to-3 vote on Jan. 18 and could be voted on by the full House this week.

“The problem with House Bill 1253 is that the bill

does not help solve the immigration problem,” said ICC Executive Director Glenn Tebbe, who testified in opposition to the bill before the House panel. “Rather, it exacerbates problems for employers and immigrants alike.

“The Indiana Catholic Conference also opposed the bill because its ultimate target is the immigrant,” Tebbe added.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.) †

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