WASHINGTON (November 4, 1997) -- Proposed legislation affecting thousands of Central American immigrants is a step in the right direction but creates serious inequalities, according to the spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Bishops on immigration issues.
"While we are pleased that Congress is poised to correct a portion of last year's ill-considered immigration 'reform' law, we are distressed by the unevenness and inequality of the proposed solution," said Bishop John S. Cummins, chairman of the Bishops Migration Committee, in a written statement.
"We note with great dismay that some in Congress have prevailed in insisting on unequal forms of relief for similarly situated people," Bishop Cummins said. "The aggressors these people fled had different names and wore various uniforms, but the terror which prompted their flight was the same. We strongly believe that the fullest and most equal relief possible should be offered to all those who are similarly situated."
The compromise legislation, which has been proposed by Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Lamar Smith (R-TX), affects an estimated 300,000 Nicaraguans, El Salvadorans, and Guatemalans, and their families, who fled to the United States during the civil wars which ravaged Central America in the 1980s. While never granted any official status by the U.S. government, they arrived with government knowledge and support, and many have established homes and businesses in the United States. Many have U.S.-born children, who according to the Constitution are U.S. citizens. Due to provisions contained in the immigration reform law of 1996, and in the absence of a permanent remedy, most of these Central American war refugees now face deportation.
Bishop Cummins noted several flaws in the proposal. One provision, he said, sets a "dangerous precedent" of providing a favorable immigration process for one class of immigrants at the expense of others. Another provision would prevent judicial review of government actions even when they are clearly unconstitutional.
"Another provision will permit a few members of Congress to designate their own favored nationalities for protection, while subjecting all others to onerous retroactive application of laws" which will prevent any form of relief, Bishop Cummins said.
"We strongly support providing relief for the affected Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Haitian nationals, all of whom fled persecution in their home countries and are thus similarly situated," Bishop Cummins said. "We urge Congress and the President to act immediately to correct inequities in the law and in this legislation so that meaningful, fair legislation can be enacted."