By DEXTER DUGGAN
PHOENIX — There wasn’t too much to disagree with in the words of the homily that Boston’s Sean Cardinal O’Malley, OFM Cap., delivered April 1 during a Mass at the high border fence in Nogales, Ariz. But what remained unsaid?
Many people are suffering and deserve Christian compassion, he said, giving examples of people seeking better lives.
The cardinal did condemn some people harshly twice in his prepared remarks, though. Drawing his displeasure were “the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population” and “the bigotry and xenophobia of the Know-Nothings.” He wasn’t referring to illegal aliens.
What O’Malley didn’t say, however, was spoken most powerfully by the presence of the high, slatted metal border fence. It’s there for an overwhelming reason.
And it still will be there even if the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops attains the “comprehensive immigration reform” it seeks, and that O’Malley and some brother bishops prayed for in Arizona on April 1.
Illegal immigration long has been utterly out of control. The fence stands there out of sheer necessity, to try to deter additional uncounted illegal immigrants after tens of millions have been encouraged by governments to cascade, wave after wave, into the United States.
The sufferings of American citizens due to the crime and chaos that loom like a tsunami over the porous border also were absent from the cardinal’s prepared text. But that burden is never far from Southwesterners’ minds.
After the National Journal posted a typically liberal attack on the Grand Canyon State on March 31, “How the Right Hijacked Arizona,” a reader replied that conservative politicians are popular because they respond to “the border, the cartels, the coyotes, and all the crime that happens because of them.”
People of all political stripes here, he added, get tired of reading about a cartel shootout and a smuggler’s van rolling over on the interstate.
On April 1 Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Phoenix’s Maricopa County, wrote Washington to ask why Immigration and Customs Enforcement apparently keeps releasing onto the streets illegal immigrants arrested for serious violations by local authorities instead of deporting them.
Arpaio wrote, “This flagrant disregard of the law, or incompetence in enforcing it, endangers both my deputies, other police officers, and the entire community.”
On April 2, the Arizona Daily Independent posted a story that began by saying the “nation is slowly awakening to a truth the ranchers have known for some time; the border is not secure, and the Mexican cartels are in control since the U.S. government relinquished it.”
Two days earlier, the Independent posted a routine story about illegal immigrants being abandoned by coyotes, including one man who said he was forced into a dry well by armed smugglers when he refused to carry a bundle of narcotics into the U.S.
Christ definitely desires His followers to aid those in need. He doesn’t say that anyone who hopes to force his way into the U.S. must be granted residency or citizenship here.
When Jesus condemns those who don’t show love for their fellows, He surely also has in mind the oligarchs and politicians in the home countries who tell their brethren to go far away and let the U.S. take responsibility for them.
To hear the cardinal and many of his brother bishops speak on the necessity to allow immigration, one could be misled into thinking that the U.S. allows little or no legal immigration, instead of already having a highly generous immigration system.
O’Malley and Tucson’s liberal Catholic bishop, Gerald Kicanas, distributed the Eucharist in Arizona to hands stretching through the slatted fence from the Mexican side. This made a strong photograph, and also made a strong argument this was a stunt that could be regarded by critics as serious disrespect of the sacrament.
Nogales has its fence, but people freely pass from country to country through legal crossings. And each of the two countries has its own Catholic churches. There’s no need to stretch arms through a barrier for Communion as if one’s trying to catch a baseball in the stands at a stadium.
A conservative Arizona Republican state senator, Al Melvin, told The Wanderer on April 2 that the prelates’ Nogales Mass was likely to cause more confusion and raise false hopes.
“As a Catholic, I think the bishops are being irresponsible because they are adding more chaos to the border, not less. And their actions encourage more unlawful behavior, which leads to more border crossings and ultimately to more lives being lost in the desert, not less,” he said.
Melvin’s gubernatorial campaign issued a statement saying, “If the Catholic Church or anyone else wants to improve the lives of those in other countries, they should spend their time and energy exporting American values and systems to nations that so clearly need them.”
An Associated Press story said Melvin said “the clergy visit will do little to solve problems on the border. He said developing private-sector jobs in northern Mexico and securing the border to prevent drug and human trafficking are needed to bring stability to both sides of the international boundary.”
Marguerite Telford, the communications director for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which favors carefully controlled legal immigration, told The Wanderer:
“As a Catholic, I am saddened and alarmed by the bishops’ use of the Holy Eucharist as a photo opportunity to push for amnesty for illegal aliens. As a person informed on immigration issues, I am appalled by the bishops’ lack of understanding of how their actions encourage foreigners to illegally cross our border, leaving their family members behind, to come wait out an amnesty which may never happen.
“Do Catholic Mexican nationals not have access to priests in Mexico? If so, the U.S. bishops should be working with the cardinals, archbishops, and bishops of Mexico to find a solution,” Telford said.
“But distributing Holy Communion to random hands coming through a fence by individuals standing at the border in anticipation of breaking American laws demeans the Catholic Church.”
She said that granting “amnesty” for many millions of illegal entrants “is a complicated political issue that requires an understanding of the resulting fiscal, security, labor, and legal consequences. There is a distinction between fundamental moral issues and ‘prudential’ judgments in regard to complex social and political issues. Unlike abortion and euthanasia, immigration is not a key theological issue that obliges Catholics to support the bishops’ political stance.”
On the other side, champions of “immigration reform” continued to speak as if failure to grant it to every possible person means the U.S. callously betrays its ideals.
The chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, said sternly: “We exhibit our own indifference when we minimize or ignore this suffering and death, as if these people are not worth our attention. It degrades us as a nation. Hopefully by highlighting the harsh impact the system has on our fellow human beings, our elected officials will be moved to reform it.”
And a Catholic News Service story said the bishops in Nogales prayed “for compassion and for a return to ideals that welcome immigrants.”