Archbishop John Nienstedt called for federal immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants on Wednesday, marking a return to politics for the Catholic leader following the church’s failed campaign last year to ban gay marriage in Minnesota.
The Twin Cities archbishop hosted a panel discussion at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, where Catholic clergy, business leaders, public policy advocates and others urged members of the U.S. House to support President Obama’s call for new immigration laws.
“The Roman Catholic bishops in Minnesota and around the United States have long been concerned about the nation’s immigration policy,” Nienstedt said to the nearly 200 people who attended the event. “It is inconsistent, ineffective and fails to promote the common good.”
“Every immigrant is a person, a daughter, a son, a mother, a father. And each of those persons possess fundamental inalienable rights that must be respected.”
Nienstedt joins Catholic bishops and priests from throughout the country in support of immigration policy changes. Hispanic immigrants remain a key demographic for the Catholic Church in the United States, and leaders say trying to ease their burdens here reflects their biblical mission to help those in need.
Panelist Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, said bishops “have not pulled any punches with immigration.”
“They [bishops and priests] would be derelict in their … pastoral duty if they did not try to help those who come to them every day and say, ‘Please get my loved one out of detention. My father’s just been deported. I’m in the desert. My loved one’s in the desert.’ ”
While the Senate has passed legislation overhauling immigration, there is opposition in the House to amnesty for undocumented immigrants. House members are expected to vote on the immigration legislation in October.
Wednesday’s event included brief remarks from Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who provided an overview of the legislation, noting that Catholics and other faith groups have been key supporters.
Before hosting the panel discussion, Nienstedt in June joined other Christian faith leaders on the plaza of the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis to urge congressional leaders to pass an immigration reform bill that creates a road map to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
It marked his return to the public forum after the church’s campaign last year to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Minnesota. The amendment failed, and legislators went on to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, a bill Gov. Mark Dayton signed into law..
Unlike gay marriage, immigration reform remains a much less divisive issue among lay Catholics and religious groups, with several denominations signing on to the effort.
Leaders at Wednesday’s panel discussion said the Catholic Church has been a vocal proponent of comprehensive immigration reform for years. For example, since 2009, the Minnesota bishops have encouraged Catholic parishes to observe “Immigration Sunday Minnesota” as a way to follow the biblical mandate to “welcome the stranger” during Epiphany Sunday, according to the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy office of Minnesota’s Catholic bishops.