Catholic church 'ahead of curve' in working with immigrants
By DEACON RANDY A. GROSSE
The Catholic Voice
The Catholic Church often has been a leader in working with immigrants. So it's not a surprise to Father Ryan Lewis, vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Omaha, to see the church among the leaders in working for immigration reform.
'The church has been proactive in this area, especially in terms of outreach," Father Lewis said about the church's work with immigrants. 'We've been ahead of the curve."
Now, through Justice for Immigrants, a campaign for immigration reform involving some 20 Catholic organizations, special efforts of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and activities at the diocesan and parish levels across the country, Father Lewis said the church is taking the lead in working for comprehensive immigration reform.
The bishops and the Justice for Immigrants campaign are seeking legislation that provides a method of legalization for undocumented workers, protection for U.S. workers and resources to appropriately enforce immigration laws.
Father Lewis said the USCCB has asked Archbishop Elden Francis Curtiss to intervene with U.S. Senators and House members from Nebraska in support of legislation with those provisions.
Two measures currently being considered drew almost polar opposite reactions from Father Lewis. The House bill, which focuses on border security, 'couldn't be worse from our perspective," he said.
One provision, punishing those who help undocumented immigrants, 'would suffer the ire of the bishops," he said.
The Senate bill, approved this spring and sponsored by Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, has the same general approach as the bishops and covers the same basic principles. 'It's much more reflective," Father Lewis said, 'and doesn't undercut basic human dignity and human rights."
While the legislation might be the spotlight, support of immigrants continues at the local level. 'The church, through a variety of programs, is having an impact," he said, noting the importance of ministry programs and social service programs offered through Catholic Charities.
And at the parish level, pastors are encouraged to serve as advocates for immigrants, Father Lewis said. 'The archbishop is supportive of priests taking that active role for the people. They need to be a presence in their lives," he said.
That presence includes providing the sacraments, keeping them in the church, assisting where possible with social services and help with the political battles, which, he said, are not just about politics, but social justice.
Despite the election year politics and the need for a Senate-House compromise of some type, Father Lewis said he remains cautiously optimistic.
'The church's mission always is going to be about reaching out to immigrants, with or without their papers," he said. 'And no matter what happens, our mission isn't going to change in that regard."