Saint Patrick's Day and Saint Joseph's Day have come and gone this year; and as always, thousands of Rhode Islanders of Irish and Italian celebrated their ancestral roots. Heralding their immigrant beginnings, they marked their respective holidays with traditional foods and festive celebrations.
This year, however, these cheerful celebrations were marred by the recent raid on the Michael Bianco Inc. factory in New Bedford, in which hundreds of undocumented workers from Latin America were arrested. Rather than cheerful festivities, that sad day was marked by the separation of mothers from their infant children and husbands from their wives and
Of course the raid was lawful, and the arrests of 350-plus workers were perfectly legal; some suggest they were also necessary to stem the tide of undocumented workers that continues to flow across our borders. The Church has consistently advocated respect for civil laws and the recognition of legitimate civil authority. However, she has also consistently taught that not all human laws are equal or just, especially those which violate human dignity. The enforcement of the law in this case, with such ferocity and grandiosity, clearly was legal, but hardly a just treatment of men and women already exploited by a greedy and corrupt employer. The aggressive enforcement tactics and the speedy shipment of the arrested workers to out-of-state locations suggest that human dignity was not a factor in implementing the immigration laws of our nation.
Current immigration laws and policies have often led to the undermining of immigrants' human dignity, and have kept family members separated from one another. The existing immigration system does not work and has resulted in a steadily-growing number of people entering our nation without permission and living in the shadows of our society as they are exploited by corrupt employers. The New Bedford raid
dramatically demonstrated the need for immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship, protects our security, and promotes the respect of human dignity.
While there can be legitimate debate on how that reform will begin to fix a broken system, there can be no room for the demagogic diatribes and insensitivities that have dogged the debate in recent days. As Irish and Italo-Americans celebrate their patronal feast days in the years to come, they must do more than feast on traditional foods and music. They must understand that they too are descendants of immigrants who were often unwelcome, unwanted and exploited.
We must not forget that the immigrants corralled in New Bedford by immigration enforcement officers are the grandparents of future Americans who will no doubt, one day in the future, toast their ancestral roots and overindulge in their traditional food and festivities.
In the meantime, the Church will continue to welcome and support all of her children, legal or illegal
(This editorial originally published in The Providence Visitor)