WASHINGTON (November 16, 2000) -- Current federal law undermines the human dignity of immigrants and refugees, according to a resolution adopted today by the nation's Catholic Bishops, who called on policymakers to enact reforms that reverse recent trends.
"Immigrants from lands across the globe have helped build our great nation," reads the resolution adopted today by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at their general meeting here. "We believe that the current configuration of our immigration laws, combined with immigration policies pursued by our government in the last several years, have had the negative effects of undermining the human dignity of the immigrants and dividing immigrant families."
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Camden (NJ), Chairman of the Bishops' Migration Committee, introduced the resolution to the full body of bishops. He explained that three laws enacted in 1996 have negatively impacted immigrants. He said the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act removed from immigrants the basic due-process protections taken for granted by American citizens. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act eliminated eligibility for public benefits for all legal immigrants.
Specifically, the resolution calls on policymakers to enact reforms which include:
"legalization opportunities for the maximum number of undocumented persons, particularly those who have built equities in and otherwise contributed to their communities;
"enforcement policies which respect the human dignity and human rights of immigrants, regardless of their legal status;
"reform of the 1996 immigration laws which have undermined the procedural due process rights of immigrants in our country, mandated the detention of immigrants, and limited protections for asylum seekers;
"reform of the 1996 welfare law which eliminated the eligibility of legal immigrants for public benefits;
"greater respect for both the civil and workplace rights of immigrant workers, especially those in industries which rely heavily on foreign workers (i.e., agriculture, meat and poultry processing, service), regardless of their legal status;
"a more efficient legal immigration system which is fair and generous and based upon family reunification; and
"U.S. foreign and economic policies which better address the conflict, poverty, and denial of human rights which pressure persons to come to this country." The Bishops state that nations should seek effective solutions to the root causes of migration flows, but that in the meantime they must address the presence of undocumented immigrants in a manner which upholds their human dignity.
While calling for policies which treat immigrants with greater respect, the Bishops were careful to articulate that they "do not condone or encourage undocumented migration," and acknowledged the right and responsibility of the federal government "to secure our national borders."
"At the threshold of a new millennium, our nation must revisit its historic roots and reexamine attitudes, laws, and policies toward newcomers who come to our land in search of a better life," the resolution says. "We call upon Catholics and citizens of good will to heed our Lord's call and challenge: 'For I was a stranger and you welcomed me.' (Matthew 25:35)."