Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory addresses the news that Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement during a press conference at the office of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in Smyrna Monday, Feb. 11, 2013.
Photo: Bita Honarvar / AJC
Photo: Bita Honarvar / AJC

Atlanta archbishop calls for immigration overhaul

Archbishop Wilton Gregory is speaking out in support of overhauling the nation’s immigration system and creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

Last month, he sent letters urging Georgia’s congressmen to ask House leaders to bring immigration legislation to the floor for a vote.

Gregory oversees the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, which represents 69 North and Middle Georgia counties that are home to a million Catholics.

He recently spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his views. His answers were edited for brevity.

Q: Why should Congress create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?

A: First of all, I think it is a matter of justice. We have approximately 12 million — and no one knows exactly how many — people living here in the United States without documentation. Many of them are living in the shadows. They are afraid for their own safety sometimes. And, certainly, (they are) afraid because many of them have family living here. Some have children who were born here and thus are American citizens. They are afraid that their families will be split apart.

But I also think it is in keeping with the nature of our country — that we are a nation of immigrants, have always been from the very beginning and continue to be. And this is just the current issue that we have to confront here at the beginning of the 21st century.

But more than anything it is a justice issue — that these people should be treated fairly. The country should be treated fairly. The bishops of the United States have advocated for comprehensive immigration legislation for the past two decades. And the important thrust is that it is comprehensive — that it approaches it in a way that protects the interests of the United States, respects the integrity of those who are here and seeks to provide a remedy that will allow these people to live in security, to have our country benefit from the gifts that they bring and to put us in right order.

Q: What is it about the Catholic faith and Scripture that is inspiring Catholics in Georgia to be vocal on this issue right now?

A: We have always in Scripture seen the immigrant as someone especially valued by God Himself. And there are multiple references in Scripture — both the Old and the New Testament — to the requirement that we treat the immigrant with dignity. Jesus Himself at his own infancy had to flee his nation to go into Egypt because of the threat that Herod posed for him. It is a scriptural theme that is woven in both the New and the Old Testament. And that forms the basis of our religious reasoning and motivation.

Q: Do you feel a sense of urgency or even concern that the agenda for Congress is becoming quite crowded right now, particularly with talk of a military strike in Syria and the federal budget discussions that will be going on this fall?

A: Certainly, there are other issues of considerable weight. But if not now, when? We have 12 million people who need to have a resolution to their situation. And that is now. And I don’t want to downplay the significance of the other issues, but this issue has been on the back burner for 20 years.

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