Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the closest American prelate to Pope Francis, took nine other bishops to the Mexican-American border for three days of listening to the stories of people who are suffering from America's horribly broken immigration system. The bishops celebrated a dramatic mass with hundreds of Mexicans, taking communion through slats in the security fence, and laid a wreath at the border commemorating the estimated 6,000 people who have died trying to cross.
"We can no longer tolerate the suffering caused by a broken system," the cardinal said. "The suffering and death must end."
When asked how important immigration reform now is to the Catholic Church, O'Malley replied, "It's another pro-life issue."
Indeed it is.
Immigration reform is not just an economic issue -- although it plays a big role in attracting and retaining talented people who will contribute to our economy. Commonsense immigration reform -- as the cardinal affirmed -- is part of a consistent ethic in which all of life is treated as sacred. This includes issues such as abortion, but extends to anything that promotes human flourishing and protects human rights. A consistent life ethic keeps families intact and protects the voiceless.
This is the strongest and clearest American Catholic Bishops have been in their advocacy for immigration reform, and the time is right. The next three months will determine whether we will finally end the separation of families and the devastation of lives being caused every day by a system that almost nobody supports anymore, but politics seems unwilling to change. We may not have another opportunity for a long time.
Yesterday, the Fast for Families buses arrived in Washington, D.C., after traveling 19,000 miles in six weeks, through 30 states, holding community meetings in over 90 congressional districts, and visiting many members of Congress or their staffs. Eliseo Medina, the spiritual and prophetic leader of the fast, noted that this has become not just an immigration issue but "an American issue" and that not a single member of Congress or one of their staff members they have talked with believes the immigration "status quo" is working. The bus tour went both north and south, encountering many stories of parents who have lost their children, husbands and wives who have lost each other, and pastors who have lost their church members.
But while the Senate has passed a bill with strong Democratic and Republican leadership, the House of Representatives continues to hold up reform. Its Republican leaders refuse to even allow a vote -- which would reform the system if it were voted on today. The deep and passionate consensus of the racially and politically diverse rally that welcomed the Fast for Families buses yesterday was that the time to vote is now. Voting on fixing the "broken system" has become a moral imperative and a religious obligation for people of faith.
The Boston Globe asked Cardinal O'Malley if "a Catholic in good faith has to support immigration reform." The cardinal answered, "I think so, yes." That means it is time for the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, Congressman Paul Ryan, and the other Catholics who are Republican leaders and caucus members to examine their Catholic faith. Last week, a group of Jewish rabbis from Richmond, Va., came to Washington to see Representative Eric Cantor, their member of Congress and Republican Majority Leader, to remind him how Jewish it was to treat immigrants well and to examine his Jewish faith on passing immigration reform. In two weeks, the Evangelical Immigration Table will bring hundreds of pastors from the districts of key Republican representatives who will testify to their evangelical faith and the Scriptures which instruct us to welcome the stranger and to remind evangelical lawmakers to examine their evangelical faith.
We didn't end our prayers and fasting on April 9, but we vowed to continue. People of faith must do what they say, walk what they talk, and live what they believe. And we will continue to pray and to act, "unceasingly" as the Bible instructs us to, until our prayers are answered, until we fix this "broken system," until the nation's suffering from this injustice and cruelty is healed. We will pray on our knees in our homes, pray from the pews in our churches, pray in our public squares, pray at our congressional offices, and perhaps soon in them. We will pray until our political leaders agree with 75 percent of the American people that the nation's immigration system is bad for people, for families, for our economy, for our security. For many of us the integrity of our faith is now at stake. We will not go away, and we will not stop praying, speaking, and acting until this work is done.
Would you like to help raise your voice and prayers for immigration reform? In anticipation of the Evangelical Immigration Table event on April 29, join your voices with ours on Twitter by participating in this Thunderclap.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn't Learned About Serving the Common Good, is now available. Watch the Story of the Common Good HERE . Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.