United States Ambassador to the Holy See
Thank you for inviting me today to this timely discussion entitled "Immigration: The Emergence of Integration." This is a topic that is important to me both as a Cuban-American exile who came to the States as a child, and now as a representative of the United States, a country that is defined by its immigrants and their collective integration.
There is a popular story in the Old Testament that recalls the visit of three strangers to the home of the Patriarch Abraham and his wife Sarah. As was the case in ancient times, the story captures the practice of hospitality that was essential for the survival of people on the move. In an effort to welcome these strangers into their home, we are told that Abraham and Sarah "hastened" to prepare a meal. In a surprising turn of events, Abraham and Sarah discover that their guests are God's ambassadors who have come to announce the ongoing fulfillment of God's promises. The story suggests challenges and opportunities that come with encountering strangers and the ethical responsibility to share life-sustaining resources.
As was true in ancient times, so it is today. The twenty-first century has been characterized as the age of migration. The United Nations estimates that there are presently more than 190 million migrants in the world. This figure constitutes a startling 3% of the world's population. Put another way, one out of every 35 people on earth is a migrant. And there are many reasons for this fact: social, cultural, political, religious, gender, economic, and increasingly, ecological.
Given these figures, it is clear that our lives are intersected by those who are different, those who represent the other. A common human reaction is to build protection from others. We build fences thinking that they can protect and shield us from encountering the danger we believe others may bring who do not think, act, or believe like us. Life behind these fences isolates us and we deny what so many before us have affirmed again and again, namely, that the human person is not an island, that we share a common history and destiny, and yes, that we are our neighbors keeper and that we stand or fall together as a human family. The fact that today the fear of the other is pathologically inherent to our existence results in what has been characterized as "the fear not only of the other but of all otherness" where "Difference itself is a threat, so even when difference does not constitute a threat for us, we reject it simply because we dislike it."
I am grateful that all of you are here today because your presence suggests, your interest to engage in constructive conversations in order to move the international community forward with respect to just and humane policies on migration. In so doing, bridges.will replace human fences.
The movement of people across borders has happened since time immemorial, and it's not going away. For states to develop healthy approaches to integrate migrants reflects smart power. Exercising smart power should include engaging civil society, and more specifically, the indispensable contribution of faith communities. The Catholic Church - is one of the most active and far-reaching religious institutions in civil societies around the world. Its vast worldwide network comprised of ordained and lay communities like the Community of Sant'Egidio offer essential partners in addressing the challenges and opportunities that come in this age of human migrations.
As a people of faith, or as government representatives, several questions should be considered: How should the human family embrace the radically changing face of societies around the world brought on by human migrations? What are the challenges and opportunities that societies have to consider in light of migration patterns? How might societies engage the gifts of the receiving community as well as the gifts of those received? How should societies address legal, cultural, religious, and economic concerns when it comes to migration?
Without dismissing any of the difficult questions that surround the experience of human migrations, I am convinced that one of the greatest challenges of our times is how to embrace human diversity. I strongly believe that diversity promotes right relationship and right rule within society. Moreover, within Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faith traditions, human diversity serves as a constant reminder that human persons were created in and reflect the image of God. Such a view prevents any one of us to live under the illusion that the other is merely a reflection of my own image and an instrument of my socio-political interests.
While integrating migrants into any society is not an easy task, it is essential for the creation and survival of a healthy societies. When properly done, integration leads to culturally richer and stronger societies. Take for instance, the United States. Since its birth, my country has welcomed many immigrants to its shores. While each new community has faced its share of challenges, we have by and large found creative and long-lasting ways to incorporate the immigrants that have arrived on our shores into the living mosaic of peoples and cultures. As President Obama has stated, "We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea- the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That's why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here..."
When we speak of integration, our laws go far to enable new generations of immigrants to become Americans. Legal immigrants have the right to enter the workforce as soon as they have. Moreover as the Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution, passed in 1868, clearly states, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." But even though for most Americans, birthright citizenship is the first step on the journey toward integration, there are millions of others who reside in my country whose legal status is still unresolved.
Recently there has been much conversation and lively debate surrounding the so called "dreamers" in my country. The term refers to children who are American in every possible way, except legally because they were brought into the country undocumented. President Obama has openly supported the "Dream Act," which says that if your parents brought you to the U.S. as a child, ifthe child has been in the U.S. for five years, and if the child is willing to go to college or serve in our military, this person can become a citizen. As the president has stated "it makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans - they've been raised as Americans; understand themselves to be part of this country - to expel these young people who want to staff our labs, or start new businesses, or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents - or because of the inaction of politicians." As someone who was brought to the United States as a child by Cuban exiles, I know from first-hand experience that it truly makes no sense to think of children who were raised in the United States, as anything less but Americans.
On June 15 of this year, the President announced a new Department of Homeland Security policy that allows certain young people brought into the U.S. as young children, who do not present a risk to national security or public safety, to be considered for relief from removal from the country.
To be sure, U.S. immigration has changed the face of America. The 2011 U.S. census revealed that, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S. Today, in America, one in seven new marriages is interracial or interethnic. It is fair to say that migration has and will continue to alter the landscape of American society. Migration has created a complex and diverse social, cultural, political, and religious reality that has preserved the dynamic nature of our union and kept alive the ongoing project of perfecting this umon.
In his historic speech in Cairo, President Obama recalled that the United States of America was "founded upon the ideal that all are created equal" and has struggled "for centuries to give meaning to those words - within our borders, and around the world." The President underscored that as Americans we "are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: Epluribus unum: "Out ofmany, One."
It seems that this national notion of creating union through the diversity of peoples need not ju t be an American idea. Not just in America, but throughout the world, we must work together to address the root causes of migration and ensure just laws to protect and integrate migrant populations. As we discuss today's theme- the emergence of immigration - it is also important to consider the process of integration. The story of America witnesses the creative potential of integrating peoples.
I am deeply grateful to my country for welcoming me as a child and now giving me the opportunity to represent it as the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Let me end with the words of Emma Lazarus, which as you know, appear on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of our Lady of Liberty. They reflect the open mind and heart of America that has welcomed me and so many other traveling strangers to its shores:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
(!'he New Colossus, Emma Lazarus, 1883)