Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Where are the U.S. bishops on immigration reform?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops met in Indianapolis June 14-15, and among the important issues discussed was reforming our immigration policies. We have consistently called for comprehensive reform of our nation’s immigration laws, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented persons in the country.

Our position is that undocumented persons, who have built equity in our country and have otherwise been law-abiding — 70 percent of whom have lived here 10 years or longer — should be given the opportunity to come out of the shadows, to pay their debt to society and to be placed on a path to citizenship. This would allow them to fully participate in and contribute to our society, and would ensure that their families are kept together, as parents would not be deported away from their U.S.-citizen children.

The U.S. bishops also believe that legal pathways should be improved so that low-skilled immigrant workers can enter into our nation legally and safely to work in jobs that Americans will not perform, although with adequate wages and worker protections. In addition, family members should be allowed to reunite with one another more expeditiously, as waiting times for family reunification can, in some cases, last many years. These legal pathways would provide an alternative to migrant workers who otherwise have to risk their lives and subject themselves to organized smuggling networks and other bad actors who exploit their plight.

We believe it is important to be even stronger in advocating these policies as we take into consideration the present atmosphere in which immigrants are targeted for deportation, even those who might qualify for a path to citizenship. Two executive orders issued by the administration, one on interior enforcement and one on border enforcement, are the blueprint for mass deportation, as they increase detention, expand expedited removal of all immigrants, increase numbers of Border Patrol and ICE officers significantly, and reinstate programs requiring local law enforcement to enforce immigration law.

They also remove the prioritization of criminal aliens for deportation and include everyone as a priority, even persons who have lived here over two decades. During the first four months of the new administration, the deportation of immigrants who have not committed a crime — the same people who would benefit from a path to citizenship — has increased by over 30 percent.

The administration has asked for over $4 billion to begin implementing a deportation program, including the building of a wall along the border, a dramatic increase in detention beds and increases in numbers of ICE agents and Border Patrol agents. Yet, mass deportation is not what we are about as Americans. It should not be the "new normal." In fact, border crossings are down significantly over the past five years and are currently at new lows, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Without question, Catholic teaching and the U.S. bishops acknowledge and support the right of a nation to defend its borders and to enforce its laws. However, in doing so, the human rights of individuals, including their due process rights, must be upheld. Too often in our immigration system we see the opposite, because immigrants do not have a right to an attorney and often do not know their rights. When held in detention, they do not have access to legal representation in many cases, and for those who do, access to their lawyers is often limited.

So instead of deporting millions of people who are working and contributing to our nation, we should bring them out of the shadows and have them register with the government, with a chance to get right with the law. Polls show that Americans, and Catholics, support this solution by significant majorities. This would separate those who contribute and have families from those who may be a threat to our society, thus freeing up immigration enforcement authorities to focus on the real threats.

In 2013, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation that would have brought millions out of the shadows and on a path to citizenship. Although the bill was not perfect, it showed that Congress, or at least one branch of it, can pass immigration reform legislation. Instead of advancing a mass deportation program, Congress should start a bipartisan effort along similar lines.

The bishops want to be clear. Immigration enforcement is an important piece of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. But all have to be playing by the same rules, including unscrupulous employers who exploit workers. The goal of the U.S. bishops is a legal framework that works and serves the best interests of our nation and of immigrants wishing to come to our country and pursue their dreams. Today, we have chaos, which does not help anyone.

Pope Francis has talked about the "globalization of indifference" toward immigrants and said that they are not "pawns on the chessboards of humanity" and that they are victims of a "throwaway culture." In other words, in many nations migrants are used for their labor and then cast aside and scapegoated, when convenient, for a nation’s social ills. This is true in America. In many ways, the real issue is that many want a broken system, as we are able to take immigrants’ sweat equity without giving them rights and protections. It is a nod-wink system. Such a misuse of our fellow human beings is immoral.

The Catholic community, including the bishops, is in a position to influence Congress and the administration to take a different course. This should not be a political issue for Catholics, but a humanitarian one. As Catholics, we must not be divided by the issue, but must move forward with one voice.

We cannot stand by as our neighbors live in fear and are threatened with deportation and the separation of their families. We cannot stand by as U.S.-citizen children are left behind, without their parents, or forced to go with them to a country they do not know. We must do all we can, within the law, to help them, our brothers and sisters.

We are at a tipping point in our country. We can pull up the drawbridge and try to grow on our own, without the contributions of immigrants, or we can embrace our immigrant heritage and enact laws which are fair and prepare us for the 21st century. As Catholics, we must act and work to advance sensible immigration reforms.


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