This Labor Day, elite opinion is pushing a piece of legislation that poses a clear threat to the interests of working Americans, the immigration bill supported by President Obama and passed by the Senate. By massively increasing legal immigration and regularizing illegal immigration, this bill promises to further depress wages and to throw more Americans out of work, at a time of high unemployment and massive underemployment. So important is this bill to elite opinion that even those it normally scorns can earn a good word by supporting the bill, as shown by a recent article in The New York Times praising the efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to support the bill.
As Bishop Robert Baker made clear through his spokesman the last time there was a major push for amnesty, immigration is "not a doctrinal issue. It's a prudential issue. Well-formed, faithful Catholics and Christians can take different opinions because it's a prudential issue." Indeed, the statement issued by Benedict XVI on immigration in 2010 indicated that states have the right to regulate migration and defend their frontiers, and also recognized the importance of respecting a country's laws and its national identity. The immigration bill shows contempt for the rule of law and our national identity, in addition to advancing the interests of plutocrats over those of working Americans. It is bad for America, and it should be rejected for that reason alone.
But it is also bad for the Catholic Church. It is likely that many of the bishops view today's immigration through the experience of their own forebears, and there is little doubt that past immigration benefited the Catholic Church. For example, large numbers of Slovak immigrants, including the Piataks, began coming to Cleveland in the late nineteenth century. These immigrants founded a Catholic parish in 1887, and they and their children founded seven more Roman Catholic parishes and two Byzantine Catholic parishes in Cleveland over the next forty years, in addition to founding a Benedictine abbey and a high school for boys. By and large, these parishes were staffed by Slovak priests and the parish schools were staffed by Slovak nuns and the funding for them was provided by the immigrants themselves. The Slovak immigrants came from a world where life revolved around the village church and the leading authority figure was the parish priest. This experience inspired them to build churches and schools once they came to America, just as similar experiences inspired other Catholic immigrants to undertake comparable efforts all over the country.
Today's immigration is different. Hispanic Catholics are not funding a boom of new Catholic churches and schools. Although there are many fervent Catholics among them, Hispanic Catholics come from a different world than earlier Catholic immigrants did. Because of the shortage of priests that has characterized Latin American Catholicism from its inception, many immigrants are coming from villages where the priest is able to visit a few times a year, if that. As a result, their attachment to Catholicism is generally more tenuous than among earlier immigrants. Archbishop Chaput just noted that although 70% of foreign born Hispanics are Catholic, only 40% of third generation Hispanics are. In other words, Hispanics are coming to America to lose a faith that was afforded at least some protection by an ambient Catholic culture in Latin America. This is hardly something the bishops should be encouraging.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.