National Migration Week
by Christopher Dodson,
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
December 2004

Parishes throughout the nation will celebrate National Migration Week January 2 through 8, 2005. North Dakota parishes should join in the celebration and look for ways to remember the dignity of all migrants and refugees.

North Dakotans do not typically consider the plight of migrants and refugees as an important social concern. A common perception is that few migrants and refugees come to North Dakota. The Diocese of Fargo, however, estimates that approximately 8,000 migrant workers come to the diocese each year during the growing season. Many of these workers are Catholic and speak little or no English. While these workers are often concentrated around the Red River Valley’s sugar beet fields, scattered throughout the state are increasing numbers of migrants drawn to processing plants and construction projects.

More known are the refugees from war-torn or politically dangerous regions like the Sudan, Bosnia, Somalia, Liberia, and Iraq, many of who live in the Fargo area. Too often, however, it seems that we read and hear more about the “burdens” imposed by these refugees rather than the success stories. We also hear little about why we, as a society, should willingly accept these families – and the impact on society which they may bring – simply because providing a place for those who were uprooted from their home is the right thing to do.

More than 34 million foreign-born persons reside in the United States. Just in the past 20 years, about 23 million newcomers have arrived, with as many as 300,000 Catholics arriving each year. This immigration growth has consequences. Restricting immigration, cracking down on illegal immigration, and “closing” the borders, however, is not an acceptable social response to the consequences. It is certainly not a Catholic response.

A Catholic response includes, among things, focus on the people most affected and most in need – the immigrants themselves. In recent years, our laws and policies on immigration have become more restrictive, with consequences impacting the dignity and life of families. Between 8 and 10 million people in the U.S. live on the margins of our society for lack of proper immigration documentation. U.S. residents who want to reunite with close family members must often wait 10, 15, and even more years before visas for their relatives become available. Border enforcement strategies along the southern border have made it the world’s most violent border between two nations at peace with each other. Asylum seekers who flee persecution in their home countries and look for safe haven in the U.S. find themselves detained as criminals for lengthy periods.

Immigration reform is one of those pressing issues Congress and the President will have soon address, even if it was not a major campaign issue. When we, as Catholics, look at immigration issues, we should start by asking whether the proposals enhance or diminish human life and dignity, especially for those that are most marginalized. When we look at the human person as the center of immigration policies, questions regarding documentation, how they got here, past activities, religion, size of family, and language are secondary, if not entirely irrelevant. Just as we say in pro-life matters – borrowing from Dr. Seuss – “A person’s a person, no matter how small,” we need to say in immigration matters, “A person’s a person, no matter what.”

When we turn away those from another land, whether they are here temporarily or permanently, we turn away Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, just as they traveled to Bethlehem and later Egypt. Perhaps that is why we celebrate National Migration Week during the last of the twelve days of Christmas.

For more information on National Migration Week: For more on the migrants in North Dakota, check out the August issue of Extension magazine, available on-line at: