WASHINGTON (June 26, 2002) -- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) today warned that a proposal pending in Congress to transfer the entirety of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) immigration functions into a new Department of Homeland Security "could do grievous harm to immigration enforcement, immigration services, and even to immigration and immigrants, themselves."
The bishops warned that enactment of the proposal without change would "send a stark messag to the world that the United States views foreign-born persons with suspicion and fear, and not as neighbors who bring skills, culture, and faith to our nation." They recommended, instead, that several current immigration functions that are more directly related to homeland security be transferred to the new cabinet level department, while other functions, including those that help long term residents become citizens or obtain work authorization documents, remain in the Department of Justice where they currently reside.
The bishops' recommendations were made in written testimony delivered to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and in testimony that a representative of the bishops will deliver in person on Thursday, June 27, 2002, before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims. The House testimony is to be given by Kevin Appleby, director of Migration and Refugee Policy of USCCB, on behalf of Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Migration.
Appleby warned in his testimony that unless Congress modified the proposal that currently is before it, "immigrants in the future will be viewed through a 'terrorist lens' and that
services would receive little attention in the new Department. In his testimony, Appleby made it
clear that the USCCB is not opposed to the creation of a new Department of Homeland Security; however, it opposes placing all of the nation's immigration functions into a department whose primary mission is incompatible with U.S. tradition as a nation of immigrants. "More importantly, the new agency should not inherit important national functions which over time, would be compromised or severely diminished."
Appleby suggested to the subcommittee that several functions within the INS relating to enforcement could appropriately be transferred to the new department, such as the Border Patrol, coordination of port and border enforcement, intelligence, investigations, and enforcement powers pursuant to the recently enacted USA Patriot Act. He suggested that other immigration areas, such as the adjudication of naturalization and adjustment of status applications, and other adjudication/services should be maintained in the Department of Justice so as not to conflict with the new department's national security mission.
"At stake in this debate is how our nation, which has been built on the back of immigrants, will view immigrants in the future," Appleby concluded. "We ask … Congress to consider the Administration's proposal in a deliberate and thorough manner. [It] could, in our view, have an adverse impact on law-abiding immigrants for years to come."
(A copy of the testimony is attached.)