(by Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens)
July 23, 2014
The Roman Catholic Bishops of Minnesota and around the United States have long been concerned about the nation’s immigration policy. It is inconsistent, ineffective, and does not promote the common good. The current humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children fleeing from violence to the U.S./Mexican border is a deeply troubling reminder of how serious the situation has become.
We need an immigration system that respects the due process rights of immigrants, creates opportunities for guest workers, secures our nation’s borders, and puts millions of undocumented persons on the path to citizenship.
Each day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals, and schools, we witness the human consequences of our broken immigration system. Families are separated, workers are exploited, and our fellow human beings die in the desert.
On April 1 of this year, Catholic bishops from around the country gathered at the U.S.-Mexican border for a Mass in Nogales, Arizona to remember the souls of the more than 6,000 people who have died in the desert since 1998 while seeking to enter America.
They hoped to be free from desperate poverty and ruthless violence, and to reunite with their families, as do the unaccompanied children, some as young as 5 years old, who are arriving at our doorstep desperate for food in their bellies and a safe place to sleep.
These 6,000 who have died and the surge of young children seeking safety are painful reminders of the human consequences of a broken immigration system — a system that deports some 1,100 persons per day, totaling almost 2 million since 2008. The cost of these deportations runs almost $5 billion per year.
Clearly, the human and financial costs of this broken system are staggering and require action now — not next year.
According to some opinions, the window of opportunity has all but closed. Yet, we are people of hope, and must continue to encourage our congressional representatives to show leadership and move our country forward toward a reasonable and just solution.
The United States Senate has already acted, passing a reform bill that, while imperfect, offers undocumented persons an opportunity to earn citizenship. We believe this legislation upholds the dignity of the many immigrants currently living in the shadows by providing them with a roadmap to citizenship and inviting them into full participation in our communities. It also serves the common good of everyone by recognizing the economic and social value that immigrants bring to our society.
Contrary to critics, comprehensive immigration reform is not and does not resemble “amnesty.” In the reform package already passed by the Senate, aspiring citizens must follow a rigorous, 13-year process that, only upon successful completion, will allow them to have the opportunity to obtain citizenship.
The process includes, among other things, paying back taxes and multiple sets of fines, demonstrating good moral character and staying out of crime, as well as learning English and demonstrating knowledge of American civics.
Similarly, advocacy for immigration reform does not constitute advocacy for “open borders.” The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does support enforcement provisions in any final legislative package, particularly a workable employer verification system. The Church does not oppose border enhancements, which should be coupled with an increase in visas for low-skilled workers, so that they can enter safely and legally.
As my brother bishop, Jose Gomez, archbishop of Los Angeles, stated in his book, “Immigration and the Next America,” the story of America is the story of immigration. The issue of immigration reform represents an important human rights test: whether we are committed to the ideals that guided our founding as a nation — the sovereignty of God, that all men and women are created in God’s image and likeness and possess unalienable rights, and that it is the fundamental duty of government to secure those rights.
Or, will we fall into the desire, which has darkened much of our nation’s history, to define who is an American along narrow racial, ethnic, and religious grounds.
If we can meet that test and pass immigration reform, it will be a great opportunity for renewal in this country by bringing millions of people out of the shadows and affirming that this nation remains committed to its noblest ideals.