LOS ANGELES – Archbishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, an outspoken advocate for immigrants and workers’ rights, told a small audience on Wednesday night that all-inclusive immigration reform for the estimated 12 million undocumented people in the U.S. was the country’s most pressing social issue and offered a framework for immigration reform, despite his bleak outlook that lawmakers were unwilling to take any action on the controversial issue.
Cardinal Mahony offered a solemn but compelling argument in his address at USC’s Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies to faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members.
“The overall common good of our nation and its citizens demand action on all inclusive measures to repair our current unworkable immigration system,” Mahony told his audience. “There is no excuse for inaction.”
He argued that the country had a moral and economic obligation to immigration reform. He illustrated these points by citing passages from Exodus and the Book of Proverbs in the Bible that urges people to listen to the cries of the poor, as well as reports and studies from agencies such as the Public Policy Institute of California and the Pew Research Institute.
“Immigration policies that result in worker empowerment, legal status, and labor rights would exert upward pressure on all wages, yielding at $1.5 trillion in cumulative U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years,” he said, according to the Center for American Progress.
In order to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, he pointed out three fundamental elements that would be needed: the countries of origin of these illegal immigrants taking more responsibility in providing for their people; the U.S. federal government’s securing of its fifth border, airports, as well as their improved tracking of visas; and finding a workable system that would handle the imbalance of the number of workers and the need for workers in times of economic downturn.
“We have two signs facing Mexico,” he said. “One says ‘Help Wanted’ and the other says ‘No Trespassing.’ We’ve created this tension and this impossible situation because of the imbalance without any way to deal with the supply and demand of the (immigrant) workforce.”
Mahony said if these important components were implemented, a path to legal residency for illegal immigrants should be made possible. However, he admitted that this idea, more than any other, has brought the greatest opposition and controversy to the issue since many interpret this action as simply offering amnesty. He said that his proposal was not about that.
He argued that his plan would only offer illegal immigrants a temporary entry-level resident status, and only if they completed several requirements, including: offering their identities and fingerprints to the U.S. government, paying all fines for illegal entry, paying all verified U.S. taxes, being proficiency tested in English, and learning about the U.S. government and the Constitution.
“Once all these requirements are met, the person can then be given a longer residency status, but still not citizenship,” he said. “They would be placed at the very end of the line to those who took all the legal steps to become a citizen. That could be ten to 15 years down the line. No one gains access by entering the country illegally.”
Mahony, however, also offered frustration along with his possible solutions by giving a sobering assessment of the current political climate.
“I would say that the prospects of the U.S. Congress passing any meaningful immigration legislation in the near future is practically zero,” he said. “I think the partisanship is so awful and the feelings are so bad with the parties, that nothing is going to happen. Both Democrats and Republicans don’t want anything to do with it.”
Despite his own forecast, Mahony, leader of the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the country where the city has the second-largest concentration of Mexicans next to Mexico City, said that continuous “draconian,” “retrogressive,” and “useless” legislation by lawmakers, like California’s Prop 187 in 1994, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, and Arizona’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Law of 2010 have helped invigorate his movement in calling for complete all-inclusive reform.
At a march in Washington D.C. this past spring involving over 250,000 people for workers’ rights, Mahony pledged that the Catholic Church would never stop advocating for immigrants.
“We don’t give up,” he said. “We stay the course and we keep moving. We have to keep pushing.”
When an audience member confessed to being conflicted with his moral and spiritual obligations this issue demanded with the real-life situations plaguing California, like the high percentage of undocumented persons in jails and their over-crowding of hospital emergency rooms, Mahony admitted being conflicted some times as well.
“You are right,” he said. “The gospel makes us uncomfortable.”
His lecture was entitled “Common Ground on Immigration Reform.” He was at the event as part of the Elizabeth and Robert Plumleigh Lecture Series. It took place in the Grand Ballroom at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.