Myths About Immigrants

Rich Reinhardt is one of my postulant brothers in the same level of formation as I am. He is also the director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Milwaukee, WI as an outreach to immigrants in this city. Working with the grass-roots group Voces De La Frontera, he has done major work in advocating for the cause of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

This evening he gave me a fact sheet that addresses many of the concerns that people in this country have about immigrants living in the U.S. borders. I decided to share this with all of you, in hopes that many myths surrounding immigration policy can be shown false and true dialogue can begin on the topic of immigration reform.

Myths and Facts on Immigration

"The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived, and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic."
-John F. Kennedy

MYTH: Increased border enforcement is the solution.
  1. From 1986 to 1998, border patrol's budget increased six-fold and the number of agents doubled.
  2. During the same time period, undocumented immigration doubled.
  3. "Tougher enforcement" that pushes people to cross remote desert has lead to a humanitarian crisis on the border.
  4. Experts, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office, have concluded that the continual and exponential increase in border-deaths which began the mid-1990's is directly related to an increase in U.S. border enforcement/border militarization. From 1995-2004 between two and three thousand bodies were found along the U.S.-Mexican border.
  5. Causes of death for immigrants crossing from Mexico range from exposure and hypothermia to murder by vigilantes.
MYTH: Immigrants don't pay taxes.
  1. Immigrants pay income, property, and sales tax using an ITIN (individual tax identification number.)
  2. They pay between $90-$140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes.
  3. They contribute $189 billion worth of wages recorded in the suspense file over the 1990's and two and a half times the amount of 1980's.
  4. They contribute $6-$7 billion in Social Security tax revenue and about $1.5 billion in Medicare taxes per year.
  5. While, as above, immigrants pay $90-$140 billion in taxes, immigrants receive only $5 billion in benefits, mostly through K-12 public schools and emergency medical care.
  6. "Our assumption is that about three-quarters of other-than-legal immigrants pay taxes." (--Stephen C. Goss, Social Security's chief actuary, using the agency's term for undocumented immigrants.)
MYTH: Immigrants take jobs from American workers.
  1. Immigrants have no net impact on unemployment rates. In states with the highest concentration of undocumented people there are actually lower unemployment rates.
  2. Immigrants help create jobs through consumerism in automotive sales, electronic sales, restaurants, etc.
  3. The Pew Hispanic Center has reported that, "Rapid increases in foreign-born population at the state level are not associated with negative effects on the employment of native-born workers.
MYTH: Immigrants don't want to learn English.
  1. Demand for English classes at an adult level far exceeds the supply.
  2. Within 10 years of arrival, 75% of immigrants speak English well.
  3. 98% of Latino/Hispanic immigrants say it is important to teach their children English.
  4. The rate at which immigrants today develop proficiency in English mirrors that of 19th and 20th century German, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants.
  5. 91% of second-generation immigrants and 97% of third-generation immigrants are fluent or nearly fluent English speakers.
MYTH: Immigrants increase the crime rate.
  1. Immigrants commit fewer crimes than native born Americans.
  2. From 1994 to 2005 violent crime decreased by 34% and property crime by 32% as the immigrant population doubled.
  3. First-generation immigrants are 45% less likely to commit violent crimes than Americanized, third-generation immigrants.

This fact sheet borrowed heavily from the website of Justice for Immigrants: The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform (under USCCB). Their website is Most of the original sources can be found there.

Receiving My Habit

After spending three hours at the local H & R Block, working on last years taxes at the car dealership and at the poker room, I got home to find that my habit had come from the tailor in Washington. We had our habits made in advance that they would be ready by the time we made it to novitiate. To make sure the habit and the hood fit properly, I had a chance to wear the last suit I will ever have to put on!

Now everyone from my mother to my friends have been waiting in anticipation to see me with my habit on. And trust me, I already have a few good pictures. However, since we have not been invested in our habits, a ceremony that is a huge part of becoming a novice, it is not proper that I should publish pictures of myself en habitus.

The habit fits, and I've already folded it up and set it aside for when we go to Pittsburgh from Kansas. I may sneak a chance at putting it on again; it's one of those things that helps me focus on where I want this journey to go.

I only wish I could share the excitement with everyone. I guess you'll have to wait a few more months!

My Little Easter Story

Today as I drove back from Mt. Calvary, WI I decided it was time to do what every good Catholic does after an Easter celebration:

Binge on everything you gave up for Lent!

So after taking one of the postulants to the train station, I decided to go out for some food at Taco Bell. I'd been jonesing for some fast food for weeks, and decided today I would order more food than I could possibly eat and sit in front of the TV for the rest of the day. A standard Easter for most people in the US.

Along the way through downtown Milwaukee, I saw a few guests from the St. Ben's meal walking by. I hadn't seen anyone from St. Ben's in over a week; their appearance was a quick reminder of my ministry. So rather than just honking, waving, and driving by, I decided to drive around the block and park.

I got out and spoke with John and Laura, asking how things were going. They were headed to this side of town after the continuous harrassment from the police. They couldn't understand why, on this day, the police chose to harrass them and the other homeless that resided in this part of the city. I told him that with the Easter holiday, and so many people going to the Gesu Church at Marquette University, they didn't want the poor people panhandling to the pretty-dressed people as they walked in/out of church.

Without thinking, I told them that I was going to get some lunch, and did they want to go. When talking with the homeless, inviting them somewhere means that you are also treating them. They happily accepted, and turned around to their friends who they'd been traveling with. Again without thinking, I asked if they wished to go along as well. They were a little shocked by the invite, and I had to introduce myself as the chaplain at St. Ben's before they felt comfortable.

"Vito, I'm black," John said to me, laughing. "I don't eat burritos. I eat me some chicken!" And with that, we headed out to a KFC at 12:30 in the afternoon on Easter for a Sunday brunch.

As we entered the KFC (it was one of the ones with the full sheet of bullet-proof glass between the cooking area and the dining area) it was clear that the worker was not happy about working during Easter. I tried to make the ordering as painless as possible, and I think that our joy was infectious. She started out being crabby, but eventually warmed to a Mexican and four homeless people who were sitting in her dining area...enjoying lunch and life.

Halfway during the meal, an older lady walked into the restaurant, only hoping to rest her feet. Knowing John and Laura, and knowing that they could not buy food at KFC, they told her about me. She humbly asked for something, not wanting to be imposing, and I gladly gave her my mashed potatoes and a Snacker from my order. She thanked me and with a devilish smile asked if I was which everyone laughed.

Later on that day, I would stop into St. Ben's as they offered their Easter meal to the guests of Milwaukee. I had a chance to meet with many volunteers, one of them being a girl whom I'd met at a Lenten retreat where I'd given a talk. She remembered me and what I had said...something that made me feel proud.

After the St. Ben's meal, I was invited, along with the other friars of my community, to eat with some hospitable parishioners of St. Martin de Porres Church...the parish that exists next door to our friary. With a wonderful dinner and great stories, it was the perfect capstone to a wonderful Easter.

And sitting here at my desk, later at night and with time to reflect, I can see where I found God today. This Easter holiday, where we celebrate the greatness of the risen Christ, I was able to see that glory at work in my life. I could see it in the joy of being surrounded by good people. I could see it in the hospitality and caring of others. But most of all, I saw it from it's very beginning: a selfish act that, but for the grace of God, became an opportunity for me to live the Holy Spirit on the most important day of all.

Today, like the disciples, I saw Jesus again. And the joy of having seen Him today is so great, it moves me to tears.

May you all find the risen Christ in all that you do this Easter Season.

Capuchin Easter Reflection

(taken from our Triduum Retreat, directed by our Provincial Minister John Celichowski)

First read John 21:1-19

During his years as the head of what was then the Soviet Union,
Nikita Krushchev denounced a number of the policies and atrocities of
his predecessor, Jozef Stalin, who was responsible for the deaths of tens
of millions of his countrymen. Once, while he was criticizing Stalin,
Krushchev was interrupted by a heckler who cried out, “You were one
of Stalin’s colleagues! Why didn’t you stop him?”

“Who said that?” Krushchev roared in response. The room was
absolutely still. Nobody moved a muscle. After a long moment of tense
silence, Krushchev said quietly, “Now you know why.”

Fear is a powerful motivator in our lives. It drives us to do some
things: we cram for a test because we fear failure; we turn the car
around and return home one last time to make sure we didn’t leave the
oven or iron on; and we build our arsenals and armies to protect us from
attacks or threats to what some call “our way of life.”

But just as it compels us to do some things, fear also keeps us from
doing others: we fail to apologize for fear of appearing weak or getting
into another fight; we don’t ask some one out for a date or for their hand
in marriage because we fear rejection; we stay in the comfort zones of
our current lives and ministries rather than risk being or doing something
different because we fear failure. As we saw in the example of Premier
Krushchev, fear can also prevent us from stepping forward and speaking
out when we should.

What are you afraid of right now? Which fears are driving you,
and which ones are holding you back?

Jesus knew fear. He confronted it very powerfully in the Garden
of Gethsemane the night before his death. Most of the gospels describe
it as “anguish,” a feeling so powerful that one of them describes him
almost literally sweating blood. Throughout that night and just before
his arrest, it drove him back and forth from the place where he was
praying to his disciples, only to find them asleep and overwhelmed.

The disciples had to face their own fears; and “when the chips
were down,” they failed. All of them, save the beloved disciple, fled and
went into hiding.

None of them, however, failed as spectacularly as Peter, who
denied as many as three times that he even knew Jesus—the same Jesus
to whom he had vowed only hours earlier that he was prepared to die.
He couldn’t even admit that he knew him! Confronted at once with his
own cowardice and failure, Peter could only run away and weep bitterly,
entombed in his fears.

It must have been emotionally exhausting and perhaps became
even more so when Peter and the other disciples—driven behind locked
doors out of fear that those who killed the Lord were coming after
them—were confronted by Jesus, wishing them peace and showing them
his wounds but also challenging their lack of belief.

In the gospel passage we just heard, Jesus came once again before
Peter and the other disciples. The resurrection stories remind us of
something we easily forget: Jesus reveals himself to us, personally, over
and over again. He shows himself to us as communities at least as often
as individuals; and he often does so in the midst of our ordinary lives. In
this particular passage, it was in the midst of Peter and the disciples
engaged in their regular jobs, doing something they’d done thousands of
times before.

Like Peter and the other disciples, however, we so often fail to
recognize the Lord’s presence or action…until something unusual or
miraculous happens. Perhaps we’re still afraid, in the midst of the
increasing secularism and skepticism of our age, to acknowledge him.
After all, to do so has consequences. For Peter, the biggest consequence
seemed to be being reminded of his failure.

For the church today, perhaps the biggest fear is not so much that
Jesus is no longer present and working but that he is no longer doing so
with us. If the gospel is so powerful, how is it that fewer people seem to
be following it?

I sometimes wonder whether its this fear, along with the stated
concerns about Catholic identity, that are causing such a stir at Notre
Dame about President Obama’s commencement address and honorary
degree. Our Catholic teaching on abortion and the sacredness and
dignity of human life—not only at conception and in the womb but also
in the refugee camp, the AIDS hospice, the pre-school classroom, and
the prison—is pretty clear but even many of our Catholic elected
officials do not seem compelled to follow it, much less our non-Catholic
President. Indeed, more often than not our politicians on both sides of
the aisle seem far more persuaded by their respective party platforms.

Yet even in the face of this, the Lord’s voice to Peter and the other
disciples in the upper room and behind the locked doors, echoes to us:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John
20:21). He has sent us; and, if we look at it honestly and recall the rest
of the New Testament and the first several centuries of the church’s
history, in a world far less hostile to the gospel.

Symbolized in the disciples miraculous catch of 153 fish (said by
some ancient scholars to mark the number of known species and thus the
universality of the Church—our mission remains to gather all together,
and Jesus continues to feed us in the midst of it. Despite our failures,
Jesus invites us to make the risk of love and to feed and tend those
whom he has placed in our care; and he asks that we surrender our own
wills and lives to that mission…just as he did.

Like he did with Peter, he never admonishes us, “…and don’t
screw up again.” Instead he simply asks, “Do you love me?” and urges
us to feed and tend to those in need, who belong to him, not us.

In December 1914, a terrible fire swept through the laboratories of
Thomas Edison in West Orange, NJ destroying over $2 million in
equipment and much of the great inventor’s life’s work. His son Charles
later reflected on the experience of witnessing his father’s white hair
blowing in the cold winter air and his face glowing as he gazed upon the
inferno. “My heart ached for him,” Charles said, “He was no longer
young, and everything was being destroyed.”

Rather than being overwhelmed by the tragedy, however, Edison
told his son to call his mother. “Find her,” the inventor said, “Bring her
here. She’ll never see anything like this again as long as she lives.”

The following morning found the 67 year-old Edison walking
among the charred remains of a lifetime of work, hopes, and dreams.
Instead of mourning what had been lost he remarked, “There is great
value in disaster. All of our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can
start anew.”

Happy Easter!