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Catholics’ Two Critical Immigration Duties

Immigration march DC

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Tom Hoopes - published on 11/17/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Catholics are positioned to make a decisive difference in our country’s future.

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Regardless of what happens to amnesty proposals, the influx of Latino immigrants to America means Catholics are positioned to make a decisive difference in our country’s future. If Catholics seize the moment we get one future of America; if Catholics flail and fail we get a very different one.

There are two cop-out responses to immigration in America: One would block everyone out; the other would let everyone in. The first cop-out spoils the American genius for incorporating people from many lands into one society; the second cop-out destroys the American foundation in the rule of law that makes that incorporation possible. Spoil either half of the E-Pluribus-Unum/rule-of-law equation and you endanger the peace and prosperity that has made America desirable in the first place.

Catholics are critical to protecting that equation because on the one hand, Latino immigrants are mostly Catholic; on the other, we are the modern intellectual caretakers of the principles of natural law that America was founded on. In other words, Catholics have a duty to keep immigrants Catholic, and we have a duty to keep them rooted in the right to life. Let’s look at each.

1. Catholics have a duty to keep immigrants Catholic.
Just as there are two false extremes on the immigration issue, there are also two false views of Latino immigrants. The first fears them as welfare cases at best and drug cartel soldiers at worst; the second romanticizes them as devout Catholic peasant folk with old-fashioned values of family and hard work.

The fact is, the Latino population is as diverse as any other population and nothing can be taken for granted about them. The Pew Research Center’s 2013 Survey of Latinos and Religion says a majority of U.S. Latinos are Catholic — but not by much—at 55%.

A Director of Religious Education at a San Diego parish who I spoke with said he has the same struggles with first- and second-generation immigrant families that he has with nonhispanic white families: They show up around sacrament time for cultural reasons, many of the children seem to have never learned basic Catholic prayers, their families’ Mass attendance is spotty and it is like pulling teeth to get the parents to take a lead role in the catechesis of their kids. At the same time, we know it is possible to get Catholics excited about going to church. Evangelicals have proved it — 1 in 4 U.S. Latinos is an ex-Catholic Protestant churchgoer.

One thing is clear: A typical American approach won’t do it. I witnessed this standing in the back of one Kansas parish holding my 2-year-old. An immigrant woman and her two small children walked in and looked overwhelmed in a sea of white. As the son of a Mexican-born mother, I identified with them.

The parishes that are most successful with immigrant populations early in the 21st century tend to share several things in common with those that were successful with immigrant populations early in the 20th century. They have a robust devotional life, an uninhibited and unabashed appreciation of their Catholic identity, and a strong emphasis on social life.

Or, to put it more plainly: They have Divine Mercy devotions, a giant Our Lady of Guadalupe image and a more than enough donuts for everyone in the parish hall after Mass. I stood in the back of one such parish in California with the same 2-year-old and it was I, as the son of a Kansas-born father, who felt overwhelmed in the sea of brown.

2. Catholics have a duty to keep immigrants pro-life.
Pro-abortion Democrats are eager to see more Latinos in America because they count them as reliable votes. 

It would be a sweet victory indeed if Latinos surprise them by being more true to the right to life than they are to a party label. As with their religion, though, Latinos are not predictable in their political views.

Hispanics, according to Pew’s Hispanic Trends Project, are significantly more likely to be pro-life.  But the longer they stay, the more pro-abortion they become. Those who worry about Latino assimilation need not worry. Latinos assimilate well enough — to a culture of death.

But the last election gave a glimmer of hope. Tony Castro asked “Are Democrats Facing a Latino Political Exodus?” but if you asked, “Are pro-abortion politicians facing a Latino political exodus?” his numbers would still apply:

  • In Texas, 44% of Latinos voted against pro-abortion gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis.
  • In Colorado, pro-abortion Senator Mark Udall lost a significant share of the Latino vote that he counted on, and lost his seat along with it.
  • In Georgia 47% of the Latino vote chose pro-life Gov. Nathan Deal and 42%t voted down pro-abortion Senate candidate Michell Nunn.
  • In Kansas, 47% of the Latino vote went to pro-life stalwart Gov. Sam Brownback.
  • In Nevada, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval got 47% of the Latino vote, vastly different from his last run.
  • In Florida, 45% of the Latino vote went for pro-life Gov. Rick Scott.

The pro-life movement in America has been an extraordinary success story in our generation. Next, we need to apply the same courage and imagination in sharing information and services to immigrants as we have for the past three decades at home.

In the end, Catholics should look on immigrants as a joy and a challenge. If we were in Europe, where Muslims are the main source of immigration, the way we “welcome the stranger” might mean that we should be charitable to the newcomers. In America, where Catholics are the main source of immigration, it means we should be the point of entry to the culture for newcomers.

America’s future depends on us.

Tom Hoopesis writer-in-residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

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