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Let’s create ‘a culture of encounter’

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Coinciding with the feast of the Epiphany (January 8), the Church in the United States celebrates National Migration Week. Remembering, as we do in the Christmas season, that the Son of God “migrated” from heaven to live among us and that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were themselves refugees in the land of Egypt, leads us to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking.

The theme for National Migration Week 2017 draws attention to Pope Francis' call to create a culture of encounter, and in doing so to look beyond our own needs and wants to those of others around us. In the homily given at his first Pentecost as pope, he emphasized the importance of encounter in the Christian faith: "For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others."

With respect to migrants, too often in our contemporary culture we fail to encounter them as persons, and instead look at them as “other.” If we are self-absorbed it becomes easy for us to remain aloof to their presence and suspicious of their intentions. National Migration Week reminds us that the migrant is a child of God — whatever his or her status or country of origin may be.

The United States has been and continues to be a country of immigrants — and the Catholic Church in the United States continues to be defined by the immigrant experience. Illegal migration should not to be tolerated for it also victimizes the “undocumented” migrant: lack of legal status renders him or her vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Yet, at the same time, in fixing illegal immigration we must be careful not to demonize those who were drawn to this country in the hope of better life for themselves and their children.

It was heartening to read in Timemagazine President-elect Donald Trump’s apparent opening to the “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors. They were beneficiaries of President Obama’s 2012 executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA was a holding pattern, an executive order given by President Obama when the Senate failed to pass the “Dream Act.” It allowed certain undocumented immigrants to the United States who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for employment.

Many of these children and their families are, understandably, distraught at the prospect of DACA being rescinded in a new administration. However, President-elect Trump has promised a solution that will make people “happy and proud.” Let’s hope that he does so, for the “Dreamers” are American in their tastes, their language, and in their aspirations but they just do not have permanent legal status in U.S. Granting legal status to “dreamers” is the right thing to do — it would certainly allow these young people to dream like Americans.

Revitalizing America’s inner cities and rebooting the nation’s industrial capacity are bold promises made by the incoming Trump administration. Tax reform, cutting down on the maze of business-killing regulation, fixing the spiraling costs of health care perhaps can help President-elect Trump make good on these promises. But right now, the only countries that are growing economically are countries that also have strong growth in immigration. Therefore, any “wall” built to keep out “illegals” must have sufficient doors to allow in a legal work force if future economic growth is to be sustainable.

In a world which faces the globalization of indifference, a world in which the poor, the weak, the refugee is considered “disposable,” the Church, “in welcoming the stranger among us,” seeks to create a culture of encounter. As Pope Francis says, “Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.