Immigration reform advocates keep spirits, efforts up

By Julio Rangel
November 30, 2015

The outlook for the immigrant community might have seemed challenging at best in the days after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against President Barack Obama’s plan to protect 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and with the xenophobic comments in the first Republican debate still fresh in the public arena.

But for participants at the Justice for Immigrants National Convention that met Nov. 11-13 near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, the atmosphere was vibrant. More than 300 attendees from 33 states and 64 dioceses gathered to discuss issues and strategies on immigration reform.

In his keynote address, Archbishop Cupich emphasized the need to frame the undocumented immigrants’ situation in moral terms.

“Yes” he said, “there are valid economic, security and political concerns. But, as you know when we begin with valuing the lives of these people, a path opens up for saner voices to prevail over the kind of fear-mongering that depicts immigrants and even refugees fleeing terrorism as a threat to us.”

Archbishop Cupich referred to the perceived threat of immigrants taking jobs or bringing a different religious background and way of life, and said that framing the discussion as a moral issue helps people see their dignity and value.

“Our country benefits from the toil, taxes and purchasing power of a large number of undocumented workers,” he said, “yet we do not, at the same time, offer them the protections of the law. The moral issue here is that we cannot have it both ways — exploit and use these people without honoring their God-given rights.”

There are an estimated 8 million undocumented workers in the United States.

The event, organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops under the title “Moving Forward: Immigration in 2016 and Beyond,” offered panel presentations and workshops on issues from strategies for pushing legislation in the next congressional session to the plight of families and unaccompanied migrant children fleeing from Central America, as well as immigrant detention.

Panelists and participants expressed concern about the injunction to delay implementation of Obama’s executive action that would have expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and launched the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program. “Together, these programs would protect as many as 5 million persons from deportation” said Archbishop Cupich, “thus keeping families together.”

Most participants, however, remained hopeful.

“I’m going to assume that we are going to get a decision in our favor from the Supreme Court,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

“It will be vital for us to help as many people as possible to apply for those programs as quickly as possible” she added, “because we don’t know who we’re going to have for our next president, or what our next president will do.”

The DACA program from 2012 is still in effect, Atkinson reminded the participants. “So we need to educate the community, they need to understand that DACA still exists, and to watch out for frauds, so that they are not taken advantage of.”

Elena Segura, director of the Office for Immigrant Affairs and Immigration Education of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was also hopeful about a Supreme Court decision.

“Of course I’m optimistic,” Segura said during a break. “For me, this is all part of the journey, this is the pilgrimage. Seems like a pattern. I used to get very anxious about it, but not anymore, because it’s always two steps ahead and three steps back. That’s how we walk. But we’re moving.”

A recurring theme throughout the conference was the human suffering and misspent resources of an immigration system in desperate need of reform.

“We have 21,000 Border Patrol agents,” said Kevin Appleby, director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs at the USCCB. “We spend $18 billion a year in immigration enforcement. Last year we had about 130,000 undocumented immigrants detained, and an expanded network of for-profit detention companies.”

Appleby said that since 1995, when the border blockades began both in San Diego and El Paso, Texas, approximately 8,000 people have perished in the southwest desert. “So what are we going to do about this reality that is immoral and preys upon the vulnerabilities of those who are poor and suffering?” asked Appleby. “Well, the bishops of the U.S. want of course a comprehensive immigration reform bill.”

Appleby added that such a bill will bring people out of the shadows and will make us more secure. “But more importantly,” he said, “it will keep families together.”


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