“Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” is still relevant today

Meg Grice

Though immigration is not normally associated with religion, Anne Clifford, the Monsignor James A. Supple Chair of Catholic Studies, presented a Catholic perspective worthy of attention Wednesday night in the Memorial Union.

Spanning from Jesus’ own story to the lives of immigrants today, there are differences worth observing from the Bible and the immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Clifford focused on new developments concerning the collaborative document “Strangers No Longer: Together on a Journey of Hope”, as well as the emotional side to immigration. 

Clifford’s main reasons for the lecture were the 15th anniversary of “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” the levels of immigration, and Pope Francis’ outreach to immigrants. Pope Francis himself has given attention to immigrants from Somalia, a nation formerly under the control of Italy until 1960. 

“The World Bank in Honduras estimates that more than 60 percent of its population lives in poverty,” said Clifford.

Pope Francis recognized the situation, and has called for compassion.

In 1990, bishops from the United States and Mexico agreed on the competing perspectives in this situation when drafting “Strangers No Longer.” Countries have a right to secure their borders, but persons also have a moral right to migrate and survive. These persons often, “do the jobs that American people don’t want to do,” said Clifford.

“‘The stranger who sojourns with you shall be you as the native among you, and you shall love him (or her) as yourself,” Clifford said, quoting Leviticus.

In 2000, the U.S. bishops called upon the United States Government to support more generous policies for refugees and immigrants. They made a point to speak with multiple organizations within the United States and Mexico, from law enforcement to political officials.

“Three years later, when ‘Strangers No Longer’ was released in January 2003, it was heralded as a ground breaking document on immigration,” said Clifford.

Drawing on the first chapter from the text, Clifford noted how the bishops began with looking at Biblical texts’ responses to immigration. Mary and Joesph themselves “were temporary refugees while in Egypt…” much like immigrants today, who look for a place to escape.

In Chapter 3, the bishops ask for a welcome to the stranger and “…they also ask that special attention be given to migrant children,” said Clifford. “Support the poor and the outcasts.”

Lastly, chapter 4 gives attention to public policy. “Now they ask these leaders to get together and address it” by supporting the poor and the outcasts and creating a legal flow of migrants.

“Strangers No Longer” made an appeal to the United States Government to join other nations of the world in signing this document, which had already been signed by twenty other nations, including Mexico. The bishops wanted specific action, such as a temporary worker program, protection of workers’ rights, and even an option for citizenship.

“The bishops’ reasons for asking for the programs…properly regulated… lessening the cause for border patrol…and walls,” said Clifford.

Clifford also addressed globalization south of Mexico, explaining the increase in immigration from Central America and a decline from Mexico.

“Let’s think about the journey from those south of Mexico’s border,” said Clifford. She noted the trip’s length, over 1500 miles with no guarantees of water, food, or even being let in upon arrival.

“People choose to risk their lives due to violence…victimization including women, and a desire to fulfill a dream for peaceful existence,” said Clifford.

Clifford pressed how dangerous Honduras itself is, with its violent gangs and government oppression.

“They are really individuals who are trying to escape something,” Clifford said.

Clifford asked the audience to consider if they too would want to risk their lives traveling over one-thousand miles to find a job with low pay and have the constant fear of being deported. Showing images of the horrific travel conditions on train cars, she quietly said, “That’s a lot of people isn’t it? This to me speaks of the desperation.”

In contrast to Iowa, which is more industrialized, California’s harvesting is often done by immigrants. Even old women, noted Clifford, have done it for years.

Clifford then invited the audience to remember Trump’s actions against immigration, such as DACA and an aggressive deportation policy.

“Certainly there are many valid arguments for maintaining security along U.S. borders. But are there also valid reasons for honoring the human dignity of persons, especially children? I’ll leave that up to you to decide,” Clifford said.

In response to the U.S. immigration changes, the bishops affirmed that the government certainly has to find other solutions to ensure the safety of children.

“‘We can and must do better as a society, to ensure the safety of children…separating babies from their parents is immoral,'” said Clifford, quoting the bishops.

Circling back to the beginning of her argument, Clifford asked the audience to consider the five basic principles from “Strangers No Longer” and their relevancy today.

“I don’t see it as assault. I see it as absolute desperation,” Clifford said.