Friday, April 21, 2006

Jeff Fortenberry Abandons His Faith

by Kyle Michaelis
"'I was a stranger and you welcomed me' (Matthew 25:35). Today the illegal migrant comes before us like that 'stranger' in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself."
---Pope John Paul II, Annual Message for World Migration Day (1996).

"The U.S. Catholic Bishops support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that would improve the U.S. immigration system so that it is humane, secure, and reflects the values upon which our nation - a nation of immigrants - was built."
---Bishop Gerald Barnes, Chairman - U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration (Apri 4, 2006)

"The U.S. bishops strongly oppose H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Protection Act of 2005...The legislation includes many harsh provisions which would bring undue harm to immigrants and their families. Among its many provisions, it would make unlawful presence a felony; subject anyone who assists an undocumented alien to criminal penalties; require mandatory detention of all aliens apprehended along the U.S. border, including children and families; and limit relief to asylum-seekers through an expansion of expedited removal."
---website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (April 21, 2006)

I normally would never question an elected official's balancing of his political decisions with his religious faith, but 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has worn his religion on his sleeves to such a disturbing degree that when his votes violate the teachings of his church, they both warrant mention and invite condemnation.

In 2004, Fortenberry used Eastern Nebraska's heavy Roman Catholic population as the base of his support - networking and recruiting volunteers through Church functions, using his pledges of extremist fervor against abortion as a wedge issue between himself and the more moderately "pro-life" candidate Matt Connealy, a Catholic Democrat.

Fortenberry sold himself as the true Catholic in the race - the one whose votes would truly reflect church doctrine and Catholic principles of morality.

Well, I'm not calling for any politician to take his cues from the Pope - even if that is the standard to which some mistakenly believe Catholics must adhere - but I do ask that politicians be true to their rhetoric and on the level with voters to avoid hypocrisy.

Frankly, on immigration - as well as most "Culture of Life" issues that don't seek to dictate women's medical decisions - Rep. Fortenberry has proven that his votes are guided not by his Catholic faith but by his allegiance to the extremist Right-wing agenda that controls our Republican Congress. This was made abundantly clear by a pair of articles in Thursday's Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star.

Some excerpts from these articles include:
Border security should be the first priority of immigration reform, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said Wednesday as he appeared to reject proposals to provide a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants already living here.


Fortenberry, R-Neb., said his 24-hour trip to Laredo, Texas, with other House members reinforced his support for a bill the House passed in December. That legislation calls for erecting a fence along the border, more high-tech surveillance equipment, new penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers and treating illegal immigrants as criminals who should be deported.

"Many senators, including Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, support toughening border security first. But the Senate has hung up over also what to do about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

The vote in support of H.R. 4437 that Fortenberry is here defending is not only fundamentally out-of-touch with American tradition but also completely irreconciable with the principles of charity and compassion espoused by the Roman Catholic Church.

This bill is so severe that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have had no choice but to speak loudly and even take the lead in the movement protesting its passage this December on a 239-182 vote with the overwhelming partisan support of Congressional Republicans. Those supporters included Fortenberry, as well as Nebraska's other two Republican rubber stamps, Lee Terry and Tom Osborne.

H.R. 4437 not only designates those undocumented families already in the country as felons - with no opportunity to remain in the United States, not even for their innocent children - but even goes so far as to make those who provide humanitarian assistance to such families guilty of a crime. How utterly reprehensible!

Of course, I can't help noticing that Fortenberry has lifted a page from the World-Herald's playbook by trying to equivocate Ben Nelson's border security proposal in the Senate with this far broader and infinitely more disturbing bill already passed by the House. Nice try, but that sort of deceitful misdirection isn't going to cut it. There is no innocence by association for the likes of Fortenberry. Dragging Nelson's name into this mess will do nothing to absolve this sinful vote nor Fortenberry's weak attempts to provide it some moral justification.

House Republicans have targeted the most down-trodden population in America for punishment, including its women and children. They have manipulated the very real problems with America's broken immigration laws - problems that deserve reasonable and humane solutions - to create a class of scapegoats for every economic failure of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress.

These are not the actions of Christians. Fortenberry's vote and his subsequent statements are not those of a man guided by the teachings of the Catholic Church. Now, his priest may be able to offer him penance and reconciliation, but voters of faith - and anyone who believes a candidate has a duty to say what he means, serve with integrty, and take responsibility when he fails to uphold the principles to which he swears himself - should not be so forgiving with their vote this November.


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