Tuesday, December 06, 2005
"Illegal" Immigration, One man's lawbreaker is another man's brother.
The Houston Chronicle
December 3, 2005
Every day of every week of every year, a newly arrived illegal immigrant, usually a young man at the end of a long and dangerous journey, knocks on Mark Zwick's door at Casa Juan Diego.
They come seeking sanctuary at this small complex of buildings a couple of miles west of downtown Houston. They need a place to catch their breath, a safe harbor before setting sail on a life in America.
Zwick lets them in. He gives them a bed, food, medical help if they need it. He will help them get their first job. If they are on their way elsewhere, Zwick will pay their fare and give them a ride to the bus station.
So what if it's a crime to harbor illegal immigrants, to transport them, to help them avoid apprehension. Those are the laws of man, which do not apply if they contradict the laws of God.
'We're doing only what any Catholic should do,' Zwick says. 'We're not unique. It's all there in the books. It's breaking the law for some. For us it's keeping the law. And it's much harder to keep the law than it is to break the law.'
Catholic social teaching states that there is no such thing as an 'illegal' immigrant. All people have a God-given right, more fundamental than the rights of a nation to control its borders, to seek better lives anywhere they can.
It is this doctrine that has allowed the Catholic Church in America, from the Conference of Bishops down to lay activists such as Mark and Louise Zwick, to become perhaps the most powerful voice among opponents of efforts to restrict immigration and stem the tide of illegal and legal immigrants.
And it is a doctrine, says David Simcox, the first executive director of the influential Center for Immigration Studies and a Catholic himself, that not only enables immigrants, but 'crimps' the noisy debate on immigration policy. Catholic policy makers and their millions of constituents find it intimidating to dispute 'the Holy Spirit and the Magisterium of a 2,000-year-old
The Catholic Church is by no means the only institution that succors the newly arrived and abets illegal immigration, but it is by far the largest.
In Houston, Catholic Charities offers an extensive array of services to immigrants, including illegals.
Simcox estimates that nationwide, about 10 percent to 15 percent of the Catholic Church's charitable budget goes toward aiding immigrants and refugees, of which probably two-thirds would go to illegal immigrants.
Since many immigrants come from predominantly Catholic Latin America, Simcox says, the church's immigration policy is 'probably a mixture of idealism and altruism on one hand and probably real politik on the other in the sense that they have much to gain by encouraging the entry and resettlement and ultimate acceptance of what will be their church of the future.'
At Casa Juan Diego, the obligation is much simpler. The people that come to the door are in need.
'We know, from our own experience, helping thousands of people, making sure those who don't have food get food, which we do for about 4,000 families a month, it would be chaos,' Zwick says. 'If the Catholics who do care about the immigrants stopped helping with the immigrants, we would have chaos.'