Catholic Sentinel photo by Kim Nguyen
New U.S. citizens listen during a ceremony in Portland last month.
Staff and news service reportsAs Congress and the White House debate immigration reform, Catholic leaders are hopeful about a bill put forward by eight senators.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 includes a path to citizenship, plus increased border security. The nation’s bishops, supportive of the plan in general, are seeking changes.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, says the proposed requirements for the a path to citizenship will leave many behind. He said the period of time the bill sets out for immigrants to get green cards and become naturalized — 13 years — is too lengthy and the cutoff date for arrival — Dec. 31, 2011 — “leaves too many behind.” The bishops also want to retain a system by which U.S. citizens can petition to bring in certain family members, including siblings.
Salt Lake City Bishop John Wester, chairman of the Committee on Communications, said 10 years of ramped-up attention to border security hasn’t stemmed the tide of immigrants. The root causes of migration should be included in the bill, he countered. “When are we going to address the push factors, people escaping poverty,” asked Bishop Wester. He said attention must be paid to helping people stay in their home countries if they so choose.
“The Senate’s proposed bill is a first step toward comprehensive immigration reform,” says Sarah McClain, an attorney who heads immigration legal services at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Portland.
Catholic Charities agrees with the bishops on specifics. The agency is gearing up to meet a possible increase in demand by expanding community education and capacity for large-scale provision of immigration legal services.
The bill must pass both the Senate and House and be signed by the president before it becomes law. That could take months.
Immigration became a higher priority in Washington, D.C. after Hispanic voters played a major role in the 2012 presidential election. They voted heavily for President Obama. There are 11 million people who have entered the U.S. without going through official channels.
A summary of the Senate Immigration Bill is available from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. at http://cliniclegal.org/sites/default/files/Summary%20of%20Senate%20Bill.pdf .