Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is a strong advocate for the issue of immigration. Cardinal Mahony wrote the following foreword for mini-unit on immigration written by the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame. This mini-unit is appropriate to be taught in a Catholic high school theology class or as part of a parish youth ministry program and is downloadable from Ave Maria Press and is free of charge. A video, Dying to Live: A Migrant’s Journey, that traces is several aspects of the migrant experience from Mexico and Central America, accompanies the mini-unit.

Immigrants. Immigration. Immigration reform. These topics have become hot button issues on talk shows, on the Internet, and during political contests the last few years. And immigration will be a major topic in the upcoming presidential, congressional, and local elections.

I have little confidence that our elected leaders will have the courage to face the reality that our country depends upon low-paid workers all across the employment field:  agriculture, the hotel and motel industry, restaurants, tourism, home health care, and landscaping, to mention but a few.  Over the centuries we as a people have wanted it both ways: on the one hand, we want the services which immigrants provide—and the low costs of those services; and on the other, we don’t want newly arrived peoples in our communities.

Where do I find hope for our future as a nation built upon the commitment, energies, and creativity of our immigrant brothers and sisters?

Answer: with our youth and young adults—because they “get” this issue.

Every time I visit a classroom or a gathering of high school or college students, my first question is the same: “How many of you were in school with a classmate, friend, or schoolmate who was here without legal papers?”  In virtually every case, half of the hands go up.

That is so encouraging to me because at least half of our students in Catholic high schools and colleges know an immigrant as a “real person,” someone with a human face, someone who shares the same hopes, life experience, and dreams that they do.

We have posted two contradictory signs on all of our borders: No Trespassing and Help Wanted. It is this contradiction that cries out for resolution.  We have some 11 million undocumented people in our country, and virtually all of them belong to blended families:  some members have documents, while others do not.  Because of that reality, these families are not going to split up with some returning to their country of origin.

We as Catholics are an immigrant people—beginning with Abraham in the Old Testament and proceeding down Salvation History.  Jesus Christ had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod shortly after his birth.  Jesus’ own words have inspired his followers through the ages:  “For I was a stranger, and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25:35).

In our own country, Catholics since the late 1770s have carried on our outreach to immigrants from all lands.

The rights and the plight of today’s immigrants in our country is one of the most pressing moral, ethical, and social justice issues of our time.

For that reason, our young people in our Catholic high schools need to be fully informed about this issue, and they need to be able to relate their discipleship to Jesus Christ with their care and concern for today’s immigrants.

The teaching materials in Migration and the Church: A Five-Day Mini-Unit from Ave Maria Press are intended to give all teachers a usable, workable, and inviting five-section module that they can easily include in any existing high school course.  The module is interesting and interactive for the students, and will help them to know more about the Church’s teachings with this issue and how they can be informed and involved to assist our immigrants directly and through the process of immigration reform.

Today’s teens need a broader sense of their own immigrant history, an understanding of the great contributions made by immigrants over the centuries, and how they can be actively involved in outreach to immigrants and to reform of our immigration laws to bring a lasting and just solution for them and their families.

At least half of our students know personally an immigrant classmate without papers.  Let’s motivate them to a Christian care, concern, and action on behalf of today’s immigrants!

Check out the trailer for the Dying to Live video: