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Human Dignity Is Crucial to Immigration Reform, Bishop Declares at SJU

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Immigration reform based on “the unique dignity of the person” is a moral concern for all Catholics—and the only rational approach to social and economic realities in today’s interdependent world, said Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop of Brooklyn, as part of St. John’s University’s annual Catholic Lecture Series.

The plight of “undocumented” aliens and efforts to restrict migration—such as construction of a fence along the border with Mexico—are vital issues for all who seek a “common-sense” approach to immigration policy, Bishop DiMarzio told an audience of faculty, students, and administrators on March 27 in St. Thomas More Church, at the Queens campus.

The subject has particular resonance, however, for Catholics, who acknowledge a “Gospel mandate” to pursue justice, Bishop DiMarzio noted. “Reform is the right thing to do for our country,” he said. “Catholic Social Teaching gives us answers on how to achieve it in a way that addresses the common good—not only on behalf of society, but also for those seeking entrance into our society.”

The presentation—“Catholic Teaching on the Issue of Immigration”—drew upon Bishop DiMarzio’s 40-year commitment to the issue. He is a past executive director of Migration and Refugee Services and chaired the Migration Committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. He also has chaired the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (Clinic) and the board of the Center for Migration Studies of New York. Shortly after his installation as bishop of Brooklyn in 2003, he was invited to join the UN secretary general’s Global Commission on International Migration—the only US resident among its 19 members.

“St. John’s is truly honored and delighted that Bishop DeMarzio has agreed to participate in our Catholic Lecture Series,” said Robert A. Mangione, Ed.D., R.Ph., Provost. “Over the past six years, this series has offered a wonderful example of our deep commitment to fully embedding our Catholic, Vincentian mission into the academic life of the University.”

St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the University’s oldest division, established the Catholic Lecture Series in 2009. “As a Catholic university, St. John’s embraces the conviction that faith and reason are inextricably connected in the conduct of a successful life—personally, professionally, and in the public sphere,” noted Jeffrey Fagen, Ph.D., dean. “The Catholic Lecture Series embodies this perspective, which is central to Catholic Social Teaching—and to the mission of St. John’s, which prepares students to use their education to make our world a better place.”

Catholic Social Teaching, said Bishop DiMarzio, offers sound, ethical guidance to immigration reform. He shared five principles the US Conference of Bishops developed to explain the church’s approach: 1) people have the right to find opportunities in their own homelands; 2) they have the right to migrate to support themselves when opportunities are lacking at home; 3) sovereign nations have the right to control their own borders—based on “the common good”; 4) refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection; and 5) respect for the rights of the “undocumented” must be considered.

Using the term “undocumented” in reference to many immigrants is a particularly vexing aspect of current policy, Bishop DiMarzio observed. “For the most part,” he explained, “they are workers fulfilling a need in a society whose economy craves labor but does not report them.” Instead, we must remember that workers “do not leave their humanity behind . . . when they cross our borders.”