Pope Francis and a moral argument for immigration reform

Pope Francis and a moral argument for immigration reform

President Obama has failed to persuade the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives to pass immigration reform, but if anybody can make a moral argument it is Pope Francis.

These two men who broke barriers, the first Latin American pope and the first African- American president, met for the first time recently in Rome.

Among the issues they discussed were income inequality and immigration reform.

There are political and economic reasons why immigration reform is needed in the U.S.

Republicans will most likely lose the next presidential election and the Latino vote again unless they pass immigration reform.

We also know that immigrants contribute to our economy. Giving the undocumented legal status would increase their state and local tax contributions by $2 billion a year, according to a study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-partisan research organization. In 2010, undocumented immigrants nationwide contributed $10.6 billion primarily in sales and excise taxes but also via property and income taxes.

But can opponents to immigration reform be persuaded with words from the Bible?

Matthew Chapter 25:35, “For I was hungry, and ye gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in.”

If anybody can deliver this message it is Pope Francis.

He already has shown himself to be a people’s pope and has earned the nickname, “Pope of the Poor.”

He eschews the luxuries of the Vatican and lives in humble hotel-style quarters instead of the luxurious papal apartment.

He is said to have ministered to the homeless in Rome at night, something he did when he was cardinal in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The pope gave the president his book, “The Joy of the Gospel,” where he writes of the importance of helping the poor.

U.S. Catholic officials have launched a national campaign for immigration reform. A group of bishops led by Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley recently celebrated Mass for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border with Arizona.

The pope has advocated for immigrants in the past.

In July 2013, @Pontifex Tweeted, “We pray for a heart which will embrace immigrants. God will judge us upon how we have treated the most needy.”

He celebrated a mass that same month on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, known for African migrants seeking passage to Europe, where many have died attempting to cross the sea.

"We have become used to other people's suffering, it doesn't concern us, it doesn't interest us, it's none of our business!" the pope said during his homily.

But this pope does not want us to ignore suffering. He wants us to change it.

The day before he met with President Obama, Pope Francis also spoke briefly to a 10-year-old girl, Jersey Vargas, who travelled from the U.S. to Rome with other children of undocumented parents. Her father was about to be deported.

She asked the pope to ask the president for help. The day after their meeting, her father, Mario Vargas, was released from detention in Louisiana after a relative who heard about the girl’s visit to Rome posted a $5,000 bond.

Many immigrant rights advocates have asked this president who has deported almost two million people, more than any other president, to halt deportations.

Obama recently ordered a review of his administration’s immigration enforcement policies.

But it is not the president’s heart that needs changing. He is already sympathetic to immigrants. He is just afraid to act alone.

Republicans and even some Democrats who oppose reform must listen to the pope’s message of compassion.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican and a Catholic, recently invited the Pope to address a joint session of Congress next year.

Boehner should remember the gospel and the teachings of Jesus, who also can be viewed as a migrant.

What if Mary and Joseph had been turned away at the inn?

We can’t continue to turn our backs on the undocumented.

President Obama knows this and perhaps Pope Francis can be the messenger to remind us all what Jesus would have done.

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