The Florida Legislature’s current debate on immigration threatens the economic stability of Florida.
Punitive measures aimed at undocumented workers will create an atmosphere of fear for them and their families. At the same time, these same punitive measures will alienate legal residents and foreign tourists who because of their ethnic “profile” could be mistaken for undocumented migrants.
While the Church does not advocate for undocumented immigration, the Church recognizes the human dignity of the “stranger among us” who, regardless of his or her legal status, is still the subject of rights — that are not conferred by the state but are in fact God given. One cannot forget the basic humanity of the immigrant whatever his status.
The Catholic Church has long ministered to immigrants and refugees in the United States, including those without permanent legal status. These immigrants, far from being a threat to our nation, are seeking to meet the basic needs of their families by working, often at jobs that Americans themselves eschew.
The regulation of immigration is clearly the purview of the federal and not state or local government; it is at the federal level the current immigration crisis needs to be resolved — but in a way that is just and in a way that addresses adequately present and future labor needs of our country and helps reunify and not divide families.
The recent Ninth Circuit Court opinion pointed out the unconstitutionality of portions of the Arizona law, including some provisions which are now in the proposed Florida bills. Passage of these statutes inevitably will result in costly court challenges, diverting already scarce resources that could be used to implement policies better suited to bolster Florida’s economy.
In this global society, fraught with economic instability and natural disasters, workers oftentimes are forced to leave their home country in search of a means to support their families. Present immigration law leaves few lawful avenues for them to regularize their status even though they contribute to our economy by their labor. Without a path to legal status, they remain vulnerable to wage theft, exploitation or human trafficking.
The failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform leaves us with a status quo that all parties of the immigration debate find unacceptable. However, draconian measures such as those proposed in the Florida Legislature and the demonization of irregular migrants only exacerbates the problem without providing any long term and just solution.
Enforcement of federal immigration law is a function of the federal government. If Floridians want to contribute positively to addressing the problems caused by illegal migration, then they should join forces with those pressing Congress for a federal solution — one that honors the rule of law but, at the same time, affords our migrant brothers and sisters the respect and dignity that is theirs as human beings made in the image and likeness of God.