Immigrants Have Dignity, Deserve Respect, Pope Francis Reminded Us

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(Photo: Reuters/Jim Bourg)Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress as Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) look on in the House of Representatives Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, September 24, 2015.

We are two local faith leaders troubled by the current global humanitarian crisis facing immigrants and refugees and seeking tangible ways to faithfully respond to those who have found their way to our community.

We were encouraged that Pope Francis' first words in his first speech in the U.S. addressed this issue, "As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in your country, which was largely built by such families."

The Pope reminded us of one of the unique strengths of this great country. We are a nation of immigrants, who throughout history have been willing to welcome the tired and poor, the huddled masses to our shores.

In his gentle and direct way Francis has confronted the disturbing underbelly of our current discussion that has fueled suspicion and hostility toward this most recent wave of immigrants. This Pope honored the handiwork of day laborers and visited immigrants in prison to highlight how broken and inhumane our system has become.

Francis has reminded the faith community that Jesus and the Holy Family lived much of their earthly life as immigrants, that the people of God were often mistreated exiles in a foreign land, and that the biblical mandate through thousands of years of history was to welcome the stranger ... "for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt."

We need to have an honest debate about the political solutions required to address this issue — challenges of border security, the difficult economic choices we face, and a reasonable pathway to citizenship for those who qualify. But none of this precludes treating these new immigrants with the dignity and respect owed to any human being.

They are not criminals. These are human beings created in the image of God trying to escape violence and poverty, to seek a better life for themselves and their children. Many are brothers and sisters who share our faith.

In a similar situation, all of us would likely make the same choices.

Thank you, Pope Francis, for confronting our fears and our prejudice, and for reminding us of our higher calling.

Will Stoller-Lee is the Director of Fuller Theological Seminary in Colorado. Andy Barton is the Director of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.