WASHINGTON (April 30, 2001) -- Many immigrant families in the United States will face unnecessary upheaval and possibly lengthy separations if a critical provision of the law is allowed to expire at midnight tonight, according to the chairman of the Bishops' Migration Committee.
In a statement issued today, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Camden (NJ), urged immediate congressional and administration action to extend a filing deadline for immigrants to access Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Section 245(i) allows immigrants previously in an undocumented status but with a family-based or employment-based visa available to them to remain in the United States to process their applications for permanent residency rather than return to their country of origin to engage the process.
"The deadline must be extended," Bishop DiMarzio said.
In 1997, Congress removed the ability of immigrants to take advantage of this provision of law, forcing them to return to their country of origin at great expense and the risk of being prevented from reentering the country under provisions of the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, passed in 1996. In December, Congress conditionally reinstated Section 245(i), allowing eligible immigrants until today to file the necessary paperwork.
In his statement, Bishop DiMarzio cited the huge demand by immigrants on Catholic agencies for assistance to file the proper papers to benefit from the provision as a justification for an extension of the deadline.
"Since the enactment of the LIFE (Legal Immigration and Family Equity) Act last December, Catholic agencies and other legal service providers across the nation have been deluged with requests for assistance...In truth, our programs have been unable to meet the demand for services, despite the dedicated efforts of staff and volunteers," Bishop DiMarzio said. He added that an extension would help those who qualify under the LIFE provision but were unable to obtain the needed assistance by the April 30 deadline.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have long advocated making Section 245(i) a permanent benefit for immigrant families across the country because it allows families to remain together. When it became clear at the end of last year that Section 245(i) would not be extended to all immigrants, the bishops supported the extension of it to a smaller group in LIFE.
"Without immediate congressional action, many immigrant families face unnecessary upheaval and possibly lengthy separation," Bishop DiMarzio said.
"The new Administration and the new Congress should, as a first step toward a positive immigration agenda this year, address this issue without delay and provide a measure of compassion to immigrant families in the United States," Bishop DiMarzio said, noting that today marks the end of the first 100 days of the Bush Administration.
Statement of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio