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Is Immigration Catholic?

Q.: Are you in favor of immigration?

A.: Absolutely not! We oppose undocumented immigration because it
 destroys families, separates parents and children and ruins marriages.

Q.: That doesn’t sound like someone who has had over 30,000 immigrants
 pass through their doors, does it?

A.: We pick up the pieces, as it were. After people are at your
 doorstep, it’s hard not to accept them. Not to accept the homeless at
 your doorstep is tantamount to rejecting one’s belief system.

Q. Your work is hard and the hours are long. How many years do you plan
 to continue this work?

A. We are going to try to finish out today.

Q.: Why do immigrants come?

A.: They can’t make it in their own countries.

Q.: Radio talk shows say immigrants come to get on welfare. Is that

A.: Absolutely not! It is impossible for an undocumented immigrant and
 now even legal immigrants to receive welfare.

Q.: Why do you use the word undocumented instead of “wetback” or

A.: First, we don’t use the word “wetback” for the same reason we don’t
 use the word “nigger.” Second, Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize recipient and
 holocaust survivor tells immigrants: “You who are so-called illegal
 aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal.’ That is a
 contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more
 beautiful, can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be

Q.: What would help to stop people immigrating to the United States?

A.: The United States could insist that U.S. factories in other
 countries pay a living wage. Something is wrong if a teenage girl is
 paid $.16 to make a shirt in El Salvador, which is then sold by the GAP
 or other companies for $25.00 in the United States.

Q.: If U. S. companies in other countries paid more to the workers,
 could they still make a profit?

A.: They could still reap tremendous profits. For example, if they
 would double the $.37 an hour, the average wage in Honduras, they could
 be rich with much more dignity.

Q.: Why doesn’t the United States implement a Marshall plan in Latin
 America like they did in Europe after World War II to help these
 countries get on their feet economically?

A. Great idea!

Q.: Why do you do this work?

A.: Apparently the Lord wants us to work out our salvation among
 immigrants and the poor.

Q.: How do you feel about the deportation of immigrants?

A.: Deportation is listed as one of the most serious sins by the
 Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World (No. 27 ) (and is
 repeated in Veritatis Splendor, No. 80, and Evangelium Vitae, No. 3):
”There exist acts which per se and in themselves independently of
 circumstances are always seriously wrong by reason of their
 object…such as homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia…torture,
 subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, 
slavery, prostitution, trafficking in women and children, …degrading
 conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit
 and not as free and responsible persons.”

Q.: Aren’t you ashamed of hiding behind the skirts of Holy Mother Church 
in your work with immigrants?

A.: Well, we are Church, too–or part of the Church, the Body of
 Christ. We are grateful that the Church is with us in our humble
 efforts with immigrants. All other groups have abandoned the

Q.: There is no pay in this work. How can you keep going with all the
 daily challenges without any compensation?

A.: We are compensated, but in a non-money way. There is no way that
 we could be paid enough to do this work.

Q.: Aren’t you ashamed of making the Roman Catholic Church look so good
 in your work with immigrants, even though you are not officially or
 legally connected to the Church?

A.: Without the Catholic community we could not exist.

Q.: Who are the immigrant men on the street corners in your
 neighborhood? Are they from Casa Juan Diego?

A.: They are not from Casa Juan Diego, but come to our neighborhood to
 get work, ironically meant for our male guests.

Q.: Have you thought of having a hiring hall for these men to get them
 off the street corners?

A.: We have attended many meetings with city officials to arrange one,
 but nothing has transpired.

Q.: Why are you so conservative?

A.: If trying to follow the teachings of Jesus and the Church, if
 trying to implement Catholic social teaching (encyclicals) and if trying
 the best we can to live out the ideals of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin
 makes us conservative, then we are conservative.

Q.: Why are you so liberal?

A.: If trying to follow the teachings of Jesus and the Church, if
 trying to implement Catholic social teaching and if trying the best we
 can to live out the ideals of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin makes us
 liberal, then we are liberal.

Q.: When you distribute food and clothing to the poor you seem to be
 all business and there is no greeting and no hand shaking and hugging.

A.: Listen, it’s bad enough that they have to suffer the humiliation of
 being in need, much less of having to hug the giver.

Q.: Are you strict?

A.: All receive the same.

Q.: Isn’t it uncomfortable with all those poor people who have no food
 and clothes?

A.: It’s fairly comfortable, since we have not accepted acquisitiveness
(acquiring beautiful things) as a transcendental value. The worth of
 the person is primary since being comes before having.

Q.: How do you know the people deserve what you give them?

A.: What we give them is not ours, but theirs in the first place. Our
 role is serving, God’s role is judging.

Q.: What is the worst thing we have done to the poor?

A.: Making them think that they do not possess human dignity because
 they do not possess as many things as others.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XVI, No. 7, December 1996.