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Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

May 23, 2010

Case Study: Illegal Immigration

The Arizona immigration law remains a newsworthy discussion piece. In April, it was opposed by a statement of the United States Catholic Bishops, who called in "draconian" while saying it "could lead to wrongful questioning and arrests of U.S. citizens." A news article on the announcement unleashed a flurry of comments on the law and the bishops' statement. A joint statement by Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz of Tijuana, Mexico, head of the Mexican Episcopal Conference Migration Commission, accompanied the visit of Mexico's President Felipe Caderó to the United States on May 19. You may wish to share the subject of this issue further with your students by allowing them to read these and other news articles on the Arizona immigration law.

Also, a new book, The Ten Commandments: Case Studies in Catholic Morality by Dr. Eileen P. Flynn connects a case of working illegal immigrants around the Seventh Commandment. The issue is complex, as the case study reveals. It examines a personal issue from several different sides. The Evaluation points are offered to lead students to consider further ramifications of the subject.

Case Study: Rights of Illegal Immigrants
Carlos and Jaime came to the United States from Mexico in order to work. Both men have relatives in Florida who they plan to live with. Both men also have wives and children who will remain in Mexico. Most of the money they make will be sent back to Mexico for the support of their families.

In the winter months, Carlos and Jaime work harvesting the citrus crops. Except when it rains, the work is steady and they get paid. The pay does not amount to a great deal, but they are frugal, and it provides enough for them and their loved ones to survive.

When citrus picking ends in the spring, it becomes more difficult for Carlos and Jaime to get work. Their routine changes, and they wait at a designated pick up point each morning at six. This is where contractors come to pick up day laborers for work in construction and landscaping. Sometimes they get hired for the day; often they do not. There are many other undocumented immigrants who also wait for work, and Carlos and Jaime think themselves fortunate when one morning they are chosen by a contractor who is putting in a swimming pool and who tells them that he will need them for at least two weeks. They agree to work for $12 an hour, and plan to work twelve hour days, unless it is raining, in which case there will be no work.

At the end of the first week, the men expect to be paid approximately $800. They are unsure whether they will be paid for the time they spent on short breaks or for lunch. When they approach the contractor and ask for the money he owes them, the contractor says that there is a problem with the homeowner and that he has not been paid, so he will also need to hold off on paying them. He asks for their cell phone numbers and tells them that he will call them when he has their money. He also says that the job is now on hold, so he will not need them next week. He tells them that they have been good workers, and he will let them know when work will resume.

  1. Why are Carlos and Jaime working? Do the needs of their families supersede the laws of the United States?
  2. Do you think it is right for Carlos and Jaime to work without documents and without paying taxes?
  3. Comment on the contractor’s failure to pay Carlos and Jaime. What recourse do Carlos and Jaime have?
  4. The Seventh Commandment requires commutative justice. What is commutative justice and how does commutative justice apply to this case?

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