Catholic Free Press

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  • Feb
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Bishops’ representative explains immigration reform

Posted By February 24, 2012 | 12:22 pm | Lead Story #3

By Tanya Connor

NORTHBOROUGH – “Keep out,” says the sign at the border.
“Help wanted,” says the sign at the business.
Such an incongruent policy illustrates the need for immigration reform in the United States, reform the United States Catholic bishops advocate.
Kevin Appleby, director of the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made this point as he spoke about “The Catholic Church and Immigration” Sunday at St. Rose of Lima Parish. The parish’s Social Concerns Ministry for Justice and Peace organized the evening. Ministry members Roger and Charlotte Stanley said it drew 135 people from the parish and other places.
“Over the past several decades, the demand by U.S. businesses … for low-skilled workers has grown exponentially, while the supply of available workers for low-skilled jobs has diminished,” says the website “Yet, there are only 5,000 green cards available annually for low-skilled workers to enter the United States lawfully to reside and work.”
The bishops say it isn’t in the best interest of the United States to deport all immigrants who are here illegally, according to Mr. Appleby. Some provide labor, pay taxes and are consumers, without benefitting from government legal protections.
“There are a lot of different forces that want it that way,” Mr. Appleby said later.
But not the bishops. They say such undocumented people should continue working, pay back taxes and “get at the back of the line” of those applying to be here legally, he said. The bishops would like to see the whole system reformed, and as many as possible of the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the United States put on the path to citizenship, he said.
Keys to victory include building confidence that the government can bring about the needed changes and involving faith groups who can make moral arguments and activate their members to make a difference, Mr. Appleby said.
The Church has a right to be involved in politics and advocate for issues important to it, because Catholics are part of the United States and its growth, he said.
“Being an immigrant Church, we experience the…immigrant story…in our social service programs…hospitals…schools…particularly in local parishes,” he said. “It really is about human beings…the impact on human dignity…human life,” not just about the economy. “These are people that are just like us. We try to remind our elected officials about that.”
There are 11 million undocumented people in the United States now, up from 4 million in 1990 and about 7 million in 2000, Mr. Appleby said. Between 300,000 and 500,000 arrive annually. Forty percent overstay their visas, the rest come without visas.
Fewer have come since the current recession, he said. But, before it started, 80-90 percent obtained jobs within six months.
Since 2000, more than 6,000 undocumented immigrants have died in the American desert, as gated urban areas drive migrants into remote areas, Mr. Appleby said.
Also since 2000, there has been a 200 percent increase in detention beds and $135-140 billion has been spent on enforcement of immigration laws, he said. In 2000 there were 6,000 border patrol agents; now there are 20,000.
Last year 397,000 undocumented immigrants were deported, he said. Since the deportations, more children – who are not deported because they were born here and are therefore American citizens – are in foster care.
The trend is to try to solve the problem of illegal immigration with more enforcement, including more state and local enforcement, Mr. Appleby said.
“It does make a dent, but it doesn’t solve the underlying issue,” he said.  The bishops say immigration reform is the best enforcement, he said. Illegal immigration could be decreased if undocumented people were brought “out of the shadows,” made to register with the government and pay taxes, and if more visas were granted,and the waiting time for entering the country or bringing one’s family here was shortened.
“The…bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States,” their website says. “The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety…”
The bishops of the United States and Mexico say the problem is not just a U.S. one, Mr. Appleby said. Some countries leave the poor out, essentially encouraging them to immigrate to the United States, from which some send money home. These countries have a responsibility to provide the poor with jobs themselves, he said.
During the question and answer period, a listener told Mr. Appleby she took offense at him saying culture is the issue. She said it’s not for her; she is from a family of immigrants.
“The big elephant in the room is: ‘My life is changing and I don’t like it,’” he had said, in reference to some Americans’ view of new immigrants moving in.
The listener said she sees a meshing of legal and illegal immigration and that she is for immigration, on which the country is built. She said she is a Catholic, and the Catholic Church is made up of rules; for example, the Church will not and should not compromise on its recent stand in the birth control controversy.
Mr. Appleby responded that rule of law is important, but the immigration system is so broken that there is not a way for these people to immigrate legally.
In response to comments from another listener, Mr. Appleby said the administration has announced that prosecutorial discretion can be used in some cases; deportation efforts would focus on immigrants who are a threat.
Marjean Perhot, director of Refugee and Immigration Services for Catholic Charities in the Boston Archdiocese, said that in Massachusetts they are not seeing that enacted; they’ve seen one prosecutorial discretion.
Mr. Appleby said this is a limited relief, but a new one.
In response to other comments, Mr. Appleby said there is a bill to raise the cap on the number of people who can immigrate from certain countries, but the bishops didn’t take a position on that, because it would be picking and choosing. There isn’t a cap for asylum seekers, who immigrate to escape persecution in their countries, he said.