Loyola`s Alana services recently held a lecture and forum discussing the policies and attitudes held by the United States government and its citizens towards immigration from Mexico and other Latin American countries. This is an issue that greatly concerns Loyola community, both in its Jesuit identity as well as its urban location here in Baltimore. Since 1990, Baltimore`s immigrant population has been steadily increasing while its native born population has slightly decreased. The forum began with a video montage which largely portrayed immigrants telling stories of coming to America for economic opportunity only to face great hardships in attempts to cross the border as well as after their arrival in the states. The presentation called for an improvement in the social structures that currently place immigrants, especially those from Latin American countries, on the lower end of society. A transformation in attitude from isolation to acceptance and welcoming is key to achieving such a goal. Attitudinal changes like this are easily facilitated by use of many traditional Catholic and Jesuit values.
The American perception towards Latino immigrants greatly influences the poor treatment that they recieve here. Such negative sentiment is highly detrimental to our society in that it targets the largest single minority group in America (Hispanics). To put this into perspective, in 2007 the most popular name in California for new born babies was not Michael or John or George. It was Jose. As described in the opening video by one immigrant, they do not come here to exploit America or its resources or to do harm. They come here to work hard and "fight for their lives" in hopes that some day they can support a happy, sufficient lifestyle. However, their attempts are extremely risky in a number of ways. First of all, obtaining a visa to allow the crossing of the border is extremely difficult to acquire. Hence the large number of illegal immigrants entering the country. However, many Americans have decided on vigilante justice along the border, taking up arms and "protecting" the border from illegal immigrants. Still, approximately 12 million illegal immigrants are living in the United States today. Immigration issues have become so fundamental to American society that both Barack Obama and John McCain spend significant time during their campaigns discussing their plans for immigration reform. Although their plans differ they agree that something must be done. John McCain went so far as to describe the immigration debate as the most inflamed US issue ever.
Once the presentation finished describing the dynamics of the crisis, it focused primarily on how to react. The central idea was to employ the Jesuit priority of responsiveness to the environment in which we live. The proper Jesuit reaction to Hispanic immigrants is to educate oneself on the issue and to not fall for common misconceptions. A couple facts about the issue easily dismiss such faulty presumptions. For instance, the fastest growing illegal immigrant group does not even come from a Latin American country (most are coming from India) and immigrant groups actually have lower crime rates than native born groups. Any reasonable individual is capable of discerning this situation and making the proper informed decision. Moreover, as Catholics we are called to accept all people, so even if a person happens to be an illegal immigrant they deserve to be treated with respect and offered the same opportunities for human rights as others.
The five person panel present at the forum proved to be very effective in demonstrating how close to home the immigration issue falls. Two loyola students, one a first generation immigrant and the other a second generation immigrant, joined a faculty member and two members of the Baltimore community in telling their stories of immigration from Hispanic countries into the United States. The origins of the stories varied, from an affluent, educated family arriving legally to a single parent out of work coming illegally, but all seemed to merge soon after arriving. All panelists described similar hardships, ranging from street level prejudice to governmental injustice. It became apparent that often times legal immigrants face the same troubles as their illegal counterparts.
As members of the Loyola and Baltimore communities, we are called to uphold Jesuit standards of societal justice and our civic duty to welcome those around us and help to spread solidarity. The immigration debate is a fragile issue and will most likely continue to be so for a long time. However, we need to realize that people are at the heart of the matter. Although immigration will take a long time to resolve, traditional Jesuit faith in action is desperately needed to promptly address the issue. Immigration is yet another unnecessary border put up between people that needs education, discernment, and action in order to be torn down.