Illegal Immigration

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

April 4, 2006


            According to my father, I am descended from illegal immigrants. At least on my father’s side.

            My father’s family was from Ireland. His father was a Daly. His mother was a Murphy. (You can’t get much more Irish than that.)

            Both families, Dalys and Murphys, came into the States via Canada. In those days, Ireland was part of the British Empire. So was Canada. Evidently it was fairly easy for Irish to get a ship to Canada which they could enter legally. From there they could make their way across the northern U.S. border to Irish communities in Boston or New York. They had no papers. Nobody was checking. When they got here they got lost in a sea of their countrymen. Some were legal and a great many were here illegally.

            Five generations later, some of the descendents of  the same people who came here, sometimes illegally, from Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia and Italy, want to slam the door on others, especially Mexicans. 

            Mexicans are not the first people to enter this country illegally in large numbers. After all, the epithet hurled at Italian Americans for years was “WOP”, which for many was an acronym for “with out papers.”

            In the 19th century, when many Irish immigrants arrived by the boatload, there was a xenophobic movement in this country. (Xenophobia is “fear of foreigners.” Xeno in Greek means stranger or foreigner.)          The nickname of these xenophobes was the “Know Nothings.” They even became a political party for a little while. They existed to keep out the tide of immigrants, mostly Catholic, that threatened the way of life of mostly Protestant America.

            Today we have new xenophobic groups, like the Minutemen. They are the spiritual heirs of the “Know Nothings.” And like their spiritual ancestors, they know just about nothing about history, culture, religion, justice and economics.

            Ever since people migrated across the Bering Sea and down from what is now Canada thousands of years ago, to become what we now call “Native Americans”, people have been coming to this hemisphere. Migration cannot be stopped. It can only be channeled.

            Our goal should be to create a legal way for people to enter our society, without criminalizing their quest to improve lives.

            The immigrants in our area are wanted by the people who live here.

            The Pew Research Center conducted a poll of residents in the Washington DC region, by telephone and in English. Some 54% of the area people favor government supported labor centers. Over one third of those surveyed (37%) would let the illegal immigrants stay permanently. Another 28% of Washington area residents would create a temporary “guest worker” program. Only 21% were in favor of deportation.

            In other words, two-thirds of the people around Washington, DC, think that the illegal immigrants should be given some kind of legal status.

            The immigration bill which recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives would make it a felony to hire or assist anyone who is this country illegally.

            Our church, like many other Catholic Churches has been helping immigrants for many years. We do not ask if someone is here legally or illegally. Most of these people are from Mexico or Central America or the islands of the Caribbean. Most are probably illegal.

            We are not going to stop our assistance. That would be a violation of God’s law to welcome the stranger and defend the rights of the alien among us.

            I hope the House bill does not become law. If it does, I will just have to commit civil disobedience.

            I owe it to the hardworking, good, gentle people who come to my door. I also owe it to my ancestors who came here the same way.