By Becky Aubut
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has just approved an updated position paper on immigration at its annual midyear meeting.
The Immigration Position Paper, along with a set of frequently asked questions, is available online at the St. Vincent de Paul website: www.svdpusa.org. The updated position paper is based on five “guiding principles” taken from Catholic faith tradition and consistent with America’s highest ideals as a country.
“This is one of 11 or 12 position papers that we have, and we’ve been working on updating it since it was last issued in 2004, and we’ve been working on it during the last six to eight months,” said Tom Dwyer, chairman of the St. Vincent de Paul Voice of the Poor Committee. The Voice of the Poor Committee helps the society develop advocacy positions for social justice particularly for the poor and marginalized in line with Catholic social teaching.
The primary author of the newly-approved position paper was a member out of Tucson, Ariz., but it was developed jointly with regional members from across the United States. It then had to be approved by a board of directors from St. Vincent de Paul in January, and then approved by the national council members — the presidents of all the diocesan councils in the country — and that was done at April’s meeting. It was then sent out to media and members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“The very encouraging news was the paper was approved unanimously by the board of directors and the national council members,” said Dwyer. “The feedback has all been positive. I think the people in the society generally recognize the principles we outline there are the principles we as Catholics and as Vincentians should live by when we look at the immigration question, not only in this country but worldwide.”
In a press release, St. Vincent de Paul National President Sheila Gilbert called for urgently-needed reform of our nation’s immigration system. “The lack of reform causes millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States to suffer senseless, grinding poverty,” said Gilbert. “This situation is an affront to the American people’s sense of compassion and justice.”
The Immigration Position Paper identifies five key “guiding principles” for reform legislation:
— Provide a compassionate and dignified path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country;
— Preserve family unity as a fundamental cornerstone of our national immigration system;
— Provide a legal path for low-skilled immigrants to come and work in the United States;
— Restore due process protections to our immigration enforcement policies; and
— Address the root causes of migration, such as persecution and economic disparity.
“Our position,” said Gilbert, “bases itself on love of neighbor, the principles of our Catholic faith, and the rich tradition and noble history of our country as a land of opportunity and refuge for migrants.”
The position paper frequently references the teachings of Pope Francis and the U.S. Catholic bishops on immigration and includes Biblical passages about the obligations of Catholics to welcome the stranger. In the frequently asked questions section, matters ranging from the teachings of other faith traditions about immigration to a review of common misunderstandings and misinformation are addressed. Links are provided to important source documents about immigration.
The St. Vincent de Paul Immigration Position Paper offers a “foundation for building consensus to fix the country’s broken immigration system and bringing about social justice for our immigrant friends in need,” said Dwyer.
One of the largest charitable organizations in the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international, nonprofit, Catholic lay organization of about 800,000 men and women who voluntarily join together to grow Spiritually by offering person-to-person service to the needy and suffering in 150 countries on five continents. With the U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., membership in the United States totals more than 160,000 in 4,400 communities.
St. Vincent de Paul offers a variety of programs and services, including home visits, housing assistance, disaster relief, education and mentoring, food pantries, dining halls, clothing, assistance with transportation, prescription medication, and rent and utility costs. The society also works to provide care for the sick, the incarcerated and the elderly. Over the past year, St. Vincent de Paul provided more than $955 million in tangible and in-kind services to those in need, made more than two million personal visits (homes, hospitals, prisons and eldercare facilities) and helped more than 14.1 million people regardless of race, religion or national origin.
As the position paper makes the rounds in the media and within the Vincentian community, Dwyer noted that not only is the paper timely considering the upcoming presidential election in the U.S., but also “it’s something the pope has been talking about. He’s talking about it in Europe and in the United States. He’s been to the border, and certainly he’s been very visible in Europe talking about the need for compassion, humanity, [and having] a welcoming attitude to anyone who is fleeing persecution and violence from drug cartels. It’s a message that we need to be reminded of.”
To read all of the St. Vincent de Paul position papers that range in topics from fair wages to human trafficking to restorative justice, go to https://www.svdpusa.org/members/Programs-Tools/Programs/Voice-of-the-Poor/Position-Papers.