Across the country, questions of legality, economics and the mix of cultures often dominate the immigration debate; and Rhode Island is no different.
The issue quickly moved to the forefront of public debate here last week when local religious leaders, including Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, responded to an Executive Order issued on March 27 by Governor Donald Carcieri ordering a crackdown on those who are here illegally. The clergy called for a calm and reasoned response to the issue. Bishop Tobin stated, in part, “In addressing the immigration question in Rhode Island, we can work together in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner. My hope is that the leaders of our state can forge effective and humane policies without harming individuals and families and without dividing the community along ideological lines.”
Unfortunately, many groups and individuals have failed to grasp the call for calm and constructive dialogue on this serious issue. Last week at the Rhode Island State House, while an immigrant group loudly protested Governor Carcieri’s actions, they also stormed his policy offices in defiance of security officials. Neither serves the common good of society nor do they help secure a positive and peaceful dialogue about serious issues facing immigrants and the State of Rhode Island.
The immigration debate cannot be solved by raising the tensions and mistrust with ill-advised protests or the tactics used by talk-radio hosts. Thankfully, most Americans and Rhode Islanders are not fooled by the demagoguery employed by many in the immigration debate. The issue is too serious to reduce to inflammatory sound-bites that debase the civil dialogue taking place among reasonable people.
There are many lessons to learn by the recent public debate; chief among them is the call for a calm and reasonable dialogue on the issue. We applaud Bishop Tobin, Rabbi Alan Flam and Reverend Donald Anderson on their willingness to address the issue in a positive and productive manner. As Catholics, we must without a doubt listen to our shepherd when he reminds us of the words of Jesus Christ that guide him in this debate. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”