Tensions have been high especially close to the Mexico-U.S. border in areas that reportedly have a large population of undocumented immigrants.
States such as Arizona have been pushing to remove undocumented workers from the country, while at the same time, the poor working conditions illegal immigrants are sometimes faced with has moved some social groups to speak out in their defense.
One such group is a coalition of 33 U.S. Roman Catholic bishops. The group's members recently signed a three-page letter in which they pledge to fight for immigration reform and speak against undocumented immigrants being "treated like criminals."
"Despite your contributions to the well-being of our country, instead of receiving our thanks, you are often treated as criminals because you have violated current immigration laws. In your suffering, we see the face of Jesus Christ," Archbishop Garcia-Siller said in the letter, directly addressing undocumented immigrants.
Ira Mehlman, Media Director at the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FIRM), shared in an interview with The Christian Post that although he and many others sympathize with the hardships undocumented workers go through, that he does not believe helping them should come at the expense of the American worker.
FIRM describes itself as: "a national, nonprofit, public-interest, membership organization of concerned citizens who share a common belief that our nation's immigration policies must be reformed to serve the national interest."
"I am not Catholic, but if the [Catholic] Church wants to use its own resources to help illegal immigrants, that’s fine. But they need to understand why the law was established in the first place," Mehlman said, explaining that the government should not be forced to make Americans pay for costs associated with immigration reform, such as legal workers losing jobs and pay. He revealed that he appreciates that the Catholic Church encourages generosity in people, but warned against forcing people to sacrifice their resources for the cause.
Responding to the comments, Kevin Appleby, the Director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CP that the Catholic Church has been helping immigrants for over 100 years, and has always looked for ways to provide them with assistance. He insists the conference is fighting for reforms not because of a belief that laws regarding immigration should not be respected, but because "the system is unjust and unfair and needs to change."
Appleby accused FIRM of having an anti-immigration agenda. He also rejected claims that undocumented workers took jobs from Americans, and said that their labor is very important in supporting the economy. "We profit from the toil of their labor, but we do not offer them any protection," he remarked.
Appleby went on to provide a biblical perspective on the issue of illegal immigration, and noted that all throughout the Bible there are instances of mass migration and refugees seeking a new life in a new land. He pointed to the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus account, and said that Jesus and earthly his parents, Mary and Joseph, would be considered refugees today by the United Nations' standards.
The director emphasized that the U.S. should be more welcoming of others and not close off its borders, because all people belong to God’s family.