Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Reverend Richard Estrada
Associate Pastor - Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church (“La Placita”)


• As a man dedicated to pastoral ministry, let me remind everyone here that the fundamental issues before this panel are non-partisan and do impact the lives of thousands of people and families in Los Angeles. Please take what you hear today and work with your colleagues in Congress to seriously discuss and address legitimate concerns regarding the employment, protection of our borders, curbing the flow of unlawful immigration, potential displacement of native workers, and possibility of exploitation within guest worker programs. The church calls for charity and justice at all times from our elected officials on this very important issue.

• I am here today to share my personal experiences with immigrants, communicate the position of the Catholic Church on immigration – and, by extension, immigration reform – and the effects and opportunities presented by migration. My testimony will focus upon 1) the role of the Catholic Church in immigration; and 2) my firsthand accounts of the contributions made and continuing opportunities resulting from immigration.

• For the vast majority of immigrants, migration to the United States – including Los Angeles – is an economic and/or family unifying necessity. The church’s work in assisting migrants stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image and, from the Old Testament, God calls upon his people to care for the alien because of their own alien experience: “So, you too, must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:17-19) It is for these reasons that the Catholic Church holds a strong interest in the welfare of immigrants and the ways in which our nation welcomes newcomers from all lands.

• The Catholic Church is and always has been an immigrant church, and is present throughout sending countries. In the United States, more than one-third of Catholics are of Hispanic origin, and the church in this country is made up of more than 58 ethnic groups from throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, the Near East, and Latin America. The Catholic Church has a long history of involvement in the immigration issue; both in the advocacy arena and in welcoming and assimilating waves of immigrants and refugees who have helped build our nation throughout her history. Many Catholic immigration programs were involved in the implementation of the Immigration Reform & Control Act (IRCA) in the 1980s, and those programs continue to serve immigrants today.

• As providers of pastoral and social services to immigrants, the Catholic Church is a witness to and cares for the human suffering occurring each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals, and schools that have resulted from a broken immigration system which fails to uphold the dignity or protect the human rights of many immigrants seeking simply to improve their own or their families’ lives in our land of opportunity. The current immigration system is morally unacceptable and must be reformed. Indeed, on a regular basis, we see families separated, hard working people exploited, and peaceful members of our communities living in the shadows of undocumented immigration status.

• What is needed to respond to these problems is true comprehensive immigration reform that will provide opportunities for legal status for the undocumented currently living in the United States, create temporary worker programs with broad-sweeping protections from employer exploitation, and strengthening of the goals for family unity that has been the cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy. These are the essential elements that the church proposes for effective comprehensive immigration reform.

• Moreover, from the perspective of the Catholic Church, we need national policies that help overcome the pervasive poverty and deprivation, lack of employment, violence and oppression that push people to leave their home countries because, in the ideal world for which we must all strive, migrants should have the opportunity to remain in their homelands and support themselves and their families. Therefore, in addition to the necessary components for immigration reform in this country, the United States needs policies that promote economic development, foreign aid and fair trade with our immigrants’ countries of origin. Addressing the root causes of migration is as humanitarian a mission as is reforming our own immigration system.

• The Catholic Church respects the law. We respect and reaffirm the right of our nation to secure our borders and to regulate immigration for the common good of all citizens. We also pray for the women and men responsible for enforcing the law, but the church cannot ignore the human needs of immigrant workers and their families when the law fails to protect their basic human rights. The above principles will help guide this effort so that human rights and dignity of persons are protected.

• But this must be made clear to lawmakers: Enforcing immigration law in the absence of providing a path to legalization for the undocumented will be a monumental setback to reform. Simply stated, status enforcement provisions will work only in conjunction with the other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform – legalization and creation of guest worker programs – because deporting 12 million people is unreasonable, will be expensive, create turmoil throughout our nation’s workforce, and create insecurity when many more people, the undocumented and everyone else, will refuse to cooperate with police or report crimes in order to avoid suspicion as being “illegal.”

• When combined with a reasonable worker program and an ability to earn legal status, then enforcement only provisions and increased border security will mitigate the amount and effects of undocumented migration because enforcement agents will be able to concentrate their efforts on protecting the border and pursue the decreased number of those inside the country without legal status.

• As a nation and a church, we are a pilgrim people. For more than two centuries European immigrants have travelled here in the hope of making a better life from themselves and their families. The same human hopes and needs are attracting a new generation of immigrants today and, just as generations of past immigrants were successful, our newest immigrants will improve their lives and contribute to our nation economically, culturally and socially.