In a letter on Nov. 7 to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that passage of immigration reform is a matter of “great moral urgency that cannot wait any longer for action.” Cardinal Dolan cited the ongoing suffering of immigrants and their families. “As pastors, we witness each day the human consequences of a broken immigration system,” he wrote. “Families are separated through deportation, migrant workers are exploited in the workplace, and migrants die in the desert.”
Cardinal Dolan said, “In their attempts to respond to these human tragedies, our priests, religious and social service providers in many cases are unable to help these persons without changes to the law.” He added, “As a moral matter, however, our nation cannot continue to receive the benefits of the work and contributions of undocumented immigrants without extending them the protection of the law.
“Studies have demonstrated that undocumented immigrants contribute substantially to our nation’s economy, working in industries such as service, construction, and agriculture. Keeping these human beings as a permanent underclass of workers who are unable to assert their rights or enjoy the fruits of their labor is a stain on the soul of the nation.”
Many political analysts have turned negative on the chances of comprehensive immigration reform making it through this Congress. But in a conversation with America, Kevin Appleby, policy director for the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, pointed out that there will be several more opportunities for a vote to reach the House floor over the next year. It might even be possible, he suggested, that reform could make it through during the lame-duck session of Congress following the 2014 elections, when those re-elected or heading for an early retirement will feel less partisan pressure.
Just a few months ago, immigration reform seemed to have all the momentum it needed for a final push through Congress. The Senate passed a reform bill in June. But the issue became bogged down in an intraparty dispute within the Republican conference between members of the so-called Tea Party contingent, who are categorically opposed to immigration reform, and Republican pragmatists who want to move forward. Appleby believes if an immigration reform bill could be brought to a House vote now, it would pass, even with significant resistance from factions within the Republican Party, but Boehner so far has refused to schedule a vote.
That is why, according to Appleby, the cardinal’s letter makes a moral case for reform, highlighting the human consequences of inaction. The Republican impasse stands in the way of a new visa program that would allow low-skilled workers into the United States. Every day that program is delayed encourages more desperate and dangerous illegal border crossings through the southwest deserts, a region Appleby called “the Lampedusa of the United States.”
In his letter, Cardinal Dolan reiterated reform measures long sought by the bishops, including “a fair and achievable path” to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants; permitting future migrant workers to enter the U.S. safely, legally “and with appropriate protections”; restoring basic due process protections to immigrants; and enhancing protections for refugees and asylum-seekers. Cardinal Dolan said any reform bill should address the root causes of migration, like “poverty and persecution.”
He called for expediting the reunification of families, but emphasized that the policy must be “based on marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Some lawmakers have suggested that reform should allow citizens to sponsor foreign same-sex spouses for permanent U.S. residency in parity with the sponsorship of spouses in heterosexual unions.