In his wide-ranging “Surprise: We All Employ Undocumented Workers” March 24 morning session, Cardinal Roger Mahony stressed how “all of us as disciples of the Lord are really called by Jesus to look at the strangers in our midst as looking at the face of Jesus.” As proof of this sacred mandate, he said one had to go no farther than Matthew 25:35: “For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Since retiring as archbishop of Los Angeles last year, Cardinal Mahony has devoted himself to advancing the cause of comprehensive immigration reform in the nation. Specifically, he has headed an effort to organize Catholic college students around the biblical and moral principles that are the foundation for the church’s ongoing support for immigration reform. Moreover, he’s brought together college presidents, urging them to take up the cause of their immigrant “dreamer” students. 

The cardinal noted how Adam and Eve were actually the first immigrants and migrants in recorded history; how Moses led his imprisoned Jewish people out of Egypt to the Promise Land; and how Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to protect the life of their newborn son. 

During his Power Point presentation, Cardinal Mahony also went through the major historical waves of immigrants to the U.S., from the pilgrims in England fleeing religious persecution to today’s Hispanics seeking a better economic life. In addition, he spoke about the different backlash movements against immigrants, starting with the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s up to today’s border-guarding militiamen.

“The so-called ‘flood of immigrants’ has always alarmed some native-born Americans,” he said. “Some feared job competition from foreigners. Others disliked the religion or politics of the newcomers. Has anyone heard that recently? We’re still hearing the same thing today.” 

We go forward as hope-filled people, trusting in God’s providence for the family of God. We need to end polarization, embracing the new opportunities across generations and groups.---Cardinal Roger Mahony

Then Cardinal Mahony asked the provocative question: So where did the last fourth wave of immigrants go wrong?

“Well, simply as a nation we sent two clear messages at the same time: ‘no trespassing’ and ‘help wanted,’ ‘no, we don’t want you here’ and ‘yes, we need you,’” he explained. “So that’s created a big, big problem now and especially for the future. And this is the part that a lot of people don’t get. Guess what? Beginning Jan. 1, 2011, until 2030, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. That’s happening for 19 years to come. 

“Hello! Something’s going to go wrong here, and you know why? Because baby boomers are having 40 percent fewer children. So there isn’t a replacement workforce for them. And, secondly, who’s going to take care of them?”

The answer to these demographic quandaries is obvious, observed the cardinal. Immigrants will be needed to fill the growing void in skilled as well as unskilled labor. And the church — as it has so many times in the past — has a vital role to play in helping these newcomers assimilate to their new nation. 

“So as disciples of Jesus Christ, though we are a people of hope, we don’t rely on the guys in Congress,” Cardinal Mahony said. “We go forward as hope-filled people, trusting in God’s providence for the family of God. We need to end polarization, embracing the new opportunities across generations and groups.

“And I think we in the church have a great opportunity to be a civil voice in this discussion,” he added. “We don’t yell and scream and use all these generalities: ‘Those illegals ….’ It’s really important for us to take that role seriously. So we come back to where we started: ‘For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’”