Just as the U.S. benefitted from the ingenuity of its early immigrants, our nation’s growth requires comprehensive immigration reform to fully assimilate millions of undocumented workers into our society and struggling economy, said Cardinal Roger Mahony at a recent Theology on Tap event.In his talk, “Encountering Christ in the Immigrant,” to a group of 40 young adults gathered at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Santa Clarita July 5, the cardinal gave Biblical and historical perspectives on the treatment of immigrants.He opened his slide presentation by pointing out that Scripture consistently calls for the protection of immigrants, citing as two examples Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:35. “God was giving instructions throughout the Old Testament on how we are to deal with people in our midst who are not in the Jewish community, and God is always saying you must show them respect and that they are very special because you too were once aliens,” said Cardinal Mahony.He pointed out that when Jesus started his public life, he spoke similarly about aliens, continuing the Old Testament emphasis of compassion for the stranger. “Jesus’ entire ministry is focused upon caring for those most in need and Christians throughout the centuries have continued these works of mercy,” including welcoming the stranger, said the cardinal.Turning to our nation’s history, he noted how America has experienced four different waves of immigrants since the first European colonists arrived in the 1600s. “It’s interesting because the collective ingenuity and initiative of early immigrants sparked the growth of the U.S.” due to many contributions, including the implementation of agricultural reforms, which continue today to “make us the bread basket for the world,” said Cardinal Mahony. He noted that America experienced its first major resistance to immigrants during the third wave of immigration in the mid-1880s, when the steady flow of settlers from overseas began to alarm native-born Americans suspicious of the newcomers’ political or religious beliefs. The Know-Nothing political party of the day demanded laws to reduce immigration and to make it harder for foreigners to become citizens,” explained the cardinal, who added that some of today’s anti-immigrant rhetoric sounds similar to that used by the Know-Nothings of the 1800s. “You can hear this on talk radio today,” remarked the cardinal. “We go through cycles of this.”Since the start of the fourth wave of immigration in 1965 — when amendments to the immigration nationality act ended the national origins quota system and replaced it with a preference system that focused on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with citizens or residents of the U.S. — there have been major changes in patterns of immigration, according to Cardinal Mahony.Immigrants coming since the mid-1960s have been mostly working in service industries, doing primarily low-income types of work such as food preparation, construction, child care, house-keeping and agricultural work. “As a nation, we sent two clear messages [to immigrants] at the same time: ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Help Wanted,’” said the cardinal. “We say don’t come — though we have all of these low-income basic skill jobs that need to be done (for which the U.S. only issues 5,000 green cards per year allocated for unskilled workers) and when people come, they get hired. Congress has not devised and implemented a modern immigration policy and accompanying laws to bridge the gap between our need for workers and the supply of workers.-Cardinal Roger Mahony“That’s why we need more legal avenues to fill this need. Congress has not devised and implemented a modern immigration policy and accompanying laws to bridge the gap between our need for workers and the supply of workers.”Baby boomers, he noted, began turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day since Jan. 2011 and will keep up this pace until 2030. The members of this age group born between 1946 and 1964 had 40 percent fewer children. “Who’s going to serve this large retirement community?” in light of the dwindling working age population, asked the cardinal. “We’ve never had this reality before. Who’s going to pay social security? Who’s going to take care of us?”In discussing immigration reform proposals, Cardinal Mahony said the church adheres to five principles that flow from scripture and church teaching:—Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland. “A lot of people don’t realize that this is number one among our principles,” added the cardinal. “People should have employment opportunity, housing, education, medical care, etcetera, in their own country so they don’t have to go anywhere.”—Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.—Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders. —Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection when they are here.—The human rights and human dignity of undocumented migrants should be respected.“There are 11 million undocumented workers who need to be brought out of the shadows, a lot of them in Southern California living in this underground world and in the shadow society in the economy,” said Cardinal Mahony.“We need to develop an earned path to legal residency — which is not amnesty — [potentially allowing undocumented immigrants to] register, pay all back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, pass an exam on U.S. history, be afforded a work permit, and begin paying all required taxes.“Immigrants are an asset and essential to our future. Our future in this country means all of us. We are going to have to go forward together or we are not going to go forward at all.”“I thought the cardinal’s talk was excellent,” said Rachael Doyle, 24, a first-time TOT attendee. She works in healthcare and knows many immigrant nurses, including a nurse from Nepal who’s lived in California for five years while trying to bring her husband and teenage son here through legal channels.“I always thought that was so wrong, that she’s trying to do it legally and it’s so hard for her, and I know people who are here illegally and it’s so easy for them,” commented Doyle. “I always think to myself, we need to make it easier to be here legally.”Maya Zegarra, 28, who immigrated legally to the U.S. at age 19 from Peru after waiting for ten years, says she was familiar with a lot of things Cardinal Mahony discussed.“I had known social security would be gone but putting it into numbers was a big shock,” said Zegarra. “And [learning] that there will be so many [seniors compared to] young people to support them in retirement was another big shocker. I think it’s really good that the church is putting so much emphasis on immigration.”Alex Kikalo, 19, said he thought the cardinal’s talk was very good at clearing up a lot of myths about immigrants. “I just wish more people could have experienced it. I guess we’ll just have to share what we learned,” said Kikalo. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0713/tot/{/gallery}