WASHINGTON (September 10, 2001) -- Bilateral negotiations on immigration issues between Mexico and the United States, highlighted by last week's state visit of Mexico's president, should include the legalization of undocumented immigrants and long-term reform of U.S. immigration policy, according to congressional testimony submitted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Camden (NJ), chairman of the Bishops' Migration Committee, made a strong argument for legalizing the undocumented currently in the United States.
"Upon close examination, the arguments of legalization opponents ring hollow," he said.
In addition, he said, the United States must prepare now for the future of "globalized labor flows of the 21st century," urging policy makers to reform the current immigration system "in a way which is generous, legal, and orderly."
In arguing for a program to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, Bishop DiMarzio asserted that legalization would:
- help keep families together and improve the well-being of U.S.-citizen children. According to a 1999 study by the Urban Institute, 85% of immigrant families were of "mixed status," that is, "families in which one or more parents is a noncitizen and one or more children is a citizen." "Undocumented immigrants subject to deportation must either leave their U.S.-born children behind or take them to countries they do not know, thereby depriving them of the rights and opportunities they are due as U.S. citizens," Bishop DiMarzio said.
- recognize and maintain the economic contributions of the undocumented. A study released last month estimates that undocumented immigrants contributed $154 billion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 2000. The undocumented also contribute billions of dollars in income, property and sales taxes.
- acknowledge the economic contributions of immigrant families and communities. According to Bishop DiMarzio's testimony, "studies purporting to calculate the net 'costs' of immigrants to the U.S. economy suffer from one or more of three fatal flaws. First, such studies often do not account for the fact that the income levels and, therefore, the tax contributions of costly newcomers increase over time, while their use of public assistance declines. Second, these studies often impose a highly artificial distinction between the economic contributions of immigrants and 'natives.' ... Third, such studies rely on comparisons of what immigrants 'consume' in public benefits vs. what they pay in taxes, without considering other economic contributions such as consumer buying power and the formation of businesses, both of which create jobs."
- improve wages and working conditions. Undocumented workers are vulnerable to exploitation by employers who use the threat of deportation to impose illegally low wages and hazardous working conditions. "Legalization would remove this threat." One study estimates that immigrant workers' wages would rise 15% following a legalization program.
- promote development and stability in Mexico and Central America in two ways. First, legalization would forestall the return of undocumented immigrants to countries that lack the jobs and infrastructure to absorb them. Second, it would guarantee the continued flow of billions of dollars in remittances sent by immigrants here to their families back home. According to a recent study by the Inter-American Development Bank, nations in Latin
America and the Caribbean received $20 billion in remittances from immigrants abroad in 2000.
- bring U.S. economic policy into line with U.S. immigration policy. U.S. economic policies, such as free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), have facilitated greater interdependence between the U.S. and other countries. "It is illogical to ease the flow of capital and commodities across borders while trying to prevent the corresponding flow of people," said Bishop DiMarzio. "As the experience of the European Union has illustrated, the two go hand-in-hand."
"Specifically, we must place more emphasis and resources upon allowing legal immigration to occur in a more generous and efficient manner," he said.
He called for a decrease in the amount of time it takes for families to be reunited legally; reducing the backlogs in immigration benefits adjudication; and permanent restoration of Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act which allows eligible undocumented immigrants to adjust their immigration status while in the United States. In addition,Bishop DiMarzio urged great caution in considering an expanded temporary worker program.
He acknowledged that nations have the right to regulate their borders, but he said vastly expanded border patrol efforts have not dampened the desire of immigrants wanting to enter the United States. Rather, immigrants have only been driven into more dangerous crossings which have resulted in approximately 1,600 deaths since 1995.
"We believe that new policy options should be considered," Bishop DiMarzio said. "We also ask that the INS be directed to train and monitor personnel to respect the civil and human rights of migrants they encounter."
Finally, he called for reorganizing the Immigration and Naturalization Service to give greater emphasis to adjudication and service functions, and for the restoration of due process protections to immigrants, many of which were lost in reform legislation passed in 1996.
Bishop DiMarzio's testimony was submitted Friday to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration.