Immigration reform must protect families, human dignity

In the past decade, the federal government has spent $117 billion on immigration enforcement, yet the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States continues to grow.

Legal means of entering the United States to work are extremely limited and do not correspond to the demand for labor. About 300,000 to 500,000 migrants cross the border every year looking for work, yet the number of available visas and green cards that offer realistic legal entry options is nowhere near that number.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops believes that increasing lawful means for immigrants to enter, live and work in the United States would help law enforcement focus on those immigrants who actually pose a threat to public safety.

The bishops, of course, accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in controlling its borders and enforcing the rule of law. But enforcement of immigration laws, while not inherently objectionable, is being carried out in ways that raise many concerns about the rights and dignity of those being prosecuted and deported.

There is little hope that either comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM Act (which would create a con-ditional path to citizenship for qualify-ing undocumented youth) stand a chance of passing Congress this year.

There are, however, a number of important immigration-related efforts taking place at both the federal level and in Minnesota.

Keeping families together

At the federal level, the USCCB has been hard at work opposing enforcement-only legislation, as well as working to obtain administrative relief from processes that tear apart families and deport large numbers of otherwise non-criminal undocumented persons.

The bishops believe that policies and laws that focus only on enforcement without comprehensive immigration reform do not resolve the dilemma posed by large numbers of undocumented immigrants in a just manner.

Advocates from the USCCB will be meeting with members of Congress in the next couple of weeks to discuss their concerns about immigration issues and are asking Catholics to follow up on these visits by contacting the local offices of our U.S. representatives and senators.

Locally, there is a proposal in the Minnesota Senate version of the Health and Human Services budget bill that would have a negative impact on legal immigrants. It is the proposal to eliminate the Minnesota Food Assistance program. This program helps legal noncitizens over the age of 50 who need food support but do not qualify for the federal food stamps program.

How you can help

During this difficult budget year, it is likely that many programs will be trimmed and reformed. But the elimination of food support  for  elderly, low-income legal immigrants could leave people in very vulnerable situations.

You can speak up for our legal immigrant neighbors by contacting members of the Health and Human Services conference committee and asking them not to adopt the Senate’s position of eliminating food support for low-income and elderly legal noncitizens.

Contacting your legislators is easy: Visit and navigate to “Advocacy Tools” under the “Legisla­tion” tab to take action on this and a number of other important issues pending at the State Legislature.

Katie Conlin is the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s interim social concerns director.

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