Hopes are running high for immigration reform advocates as Pope Francis begins his first visit to the United States. With his long-held stance that wealthy countries should welcome migrants from poor or war-torn countries, speculation holds that the head of the Catholic Church will leverage his visit to sway policymakers toward adding a healthy dose of compassion to the nation’s immigration laws.
The level of influence the pope holds is no small matter. In July, for instance, a Gallup poll showed almost 60 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of the pope. Last spring, a poll from the Pew Research Center showed the pope’s favorability rating at 70 percent.
“People really like him, even if they’re not Catholic,” Enrique Pumar, chair of the sociology department at the Catholic University of America, told USA Today. “They like his charisma, his humility. He’s not coming here to ask for a favor like a trade pact or U.S. investment in the Vatican. He’s advocating for compassion, for principles and values, and that tends to carry more weight.”
It’s Pope Francis likability factor that will most likely spearhead his efforts around immigration legislation. Director of the initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, John Carr, says he doesn’t expect to see the pope present a specific legislative proposal on immigration to Congress. Instead, Carr says, the pope will emphasize the need to treat immigrants with dignity.
“Washington worries about people with the most money and the most power. Immigrants don’t have either,” Carr says. “I think the pope will appeal to our hearts and souls and not to our polls or our politics.”
Pope Francis, who’s visiting the United States after spending several days in Cuba, will not only address congressional lawmakers, he’s also scheduled to offer remarks at the United Nations. At the UN, the pope is expected to again speak about the plight of immigrants, but will likely focus on the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and Africa.
Kenneth Hackett, U.S. ambassador to The Vatican, put it this way, “I have to believe that he will reiterate that value of mercy that he has brought up in so many other endeavors.”