Three bishops weighed in on the ongoing Congressional debate on immigration reform legislation on June 10, warning against amending a Senate bill in ways that would block the path to legalization for undocumented immigrants. “Families are separated, migrant workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings die in the desert,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.
“Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals and schools, we witness the human consequences of a broken immigration system,” said Archbishop Gomez. He called the status quo morally unacceptable, adding, “This suffering must end.”
At a news conference in San Diego, held as the U.S.C.C.B. opened its annual spring meeting, the three bishops reiterated the U.S. bishops’ support for comprehensive immigration reform. Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the Committee on Communications and former chair of the migration committee, described changes to the bill that might be attempted on the Senate floor.
“Some will argue that before we can begin welcoming new citizens, we will need more fencing and blockading of the border,” Bishop Wester said. But making reform contingent upon border metrics “that are practically impossible to achieve” would, he said, “render the immigration reform program useless and the bill not worth supporting.”
Bishop Wester said, “We urge Congress to maintain the current balance between enforcement goals and improvements in the legal immigration system, including a path to citizenship.” He added that additional measures to make the path to citizenship more difficult, like an increase in fines or imposition of other difficult income and employment requirements, or amendments to remove the citizenship option altogether, “also will meet our opposition.” And efforts to prevent immigrants in the legalization program from obtaining such benefits as the earned income tax credit, Social Security and eligibility for health care coverage would likewise merit the church’s opposition.
People who pay taxes and otherwise contribute to the economy “should not be barred from these benefits, to which every worker should be entitled,” he said. Bishop Wester said he hopes the legislative process will lead to improvements in the Senate bill, not additional restrictions.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, a member of the board of directors of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said the bishops’ policy goals for immigration reform include the creation of an accessible and achievable path to citizenship that includes the maximum number of people. If the goal of reform is to address the problem of irregular immigration in a humane manner, he said, then all undocumented people should be brought out of the shadows and placed into the new system. “Leaving a large group behind does not solve the problem, and in the future, could create new ones.”
Bishop Soto said family unity should serve as the cornerstone of the system. “Immigrant families help our nation both economically and socially” he said. “This nation cannot take an immigrant’s labor and deny the immigrant’s family.”
He added that enforcement alone cannot resolve the nation’s problem with “irregular” immigration. “The punitive enforcement-only approach has been the default policy for the last two decades. It has only aggravated the problem of irregular immigration,” he said. “Our southern border should be a place of mutual support and an extension of hands across boundaries, not a militarized zone.”