During the last twenty-five years, and especially following Hurricane Katrina, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of migrants – both documented and undocumented – in the southern states. More and more immigrants are settling into nontraditional urban and rural receiving communities in the South, where the Hispanic population more than doubled during the 1990’s. The Jesuit Social Research Institute seeks to provide practical, collaborative participatory action research, social analysis, theological reflection, and advocacy related to the issue of migration in the Gulf South in collaboration with Jesuit social and migration networks, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, Catholic diocesan ministries serving immigrants in the Gulf South, and other advocates.
Our Catholic faith is deeply rooted in the experience of migration. The Hebrew and Christian scriptures remind us time and again that God casts his tent among our most marginalized sisters and brothers, including immigrants: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
In the New Testament, exile and homelessness mark the life of Jesus as well. As a child Jesus and the Holy Family must flee as refugees to Egypt. As an adult, Jesus is an itinerant preacher who travels throughout Galilee and Judea to spread his message: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt: 8-20). Jesus identified with migrants and other marginalized people in an intense and personal way, and taught that our very salvation depends on how we treat the migrant in our midst: “…For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt: 25: 35). “Just as you did this to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me“(Mt: 25:40).
Strangers No Longer: On A Journey Of Hope (November 2002), a joint pastoral letter on migration issued by the bishops of Mexico and the United States, recognizes that migration is both “necessary and beneficial” for both countries and calls upon people of good will to “work toward changes in church and societal structures” to comprehensively serve the needs of migrants. In his 2003 letter outlining five apostolic preferences for the world-wide the Society of Jesus, Very Rev. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ—then the Superior General of the Jesuits—mandated that in addition to directly serving refugees through agencies such as the Jesuit Refugee Service “…it seems necessary to widen this appeal, so that we come to the aid of the numerous migrants, according to their manifest needs on the various continents.” (January 1, 2003: p. 3). The 2007 Jesuit General Congregation 35 and the superior General elected then, Very Rev. Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., have strongly reasserted this priority for the universal Society of Jesus. For the past 25 years, the Society of Jesus has engaged in a systematic and intentional effort to assist refugees through the international Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
As the United States engages in a nationwide debate on reform of the immigration system and state legislatures continue efforts to enact immigration legislation at the state level, JSRI will provide information, education, and advocacy on immigration reform in conjunction with the national Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform—Justice for Immigrants.