WASHINGTON (February 12, 2004) -- President Bush's proposal for a temporary worker program for immigrants is a welcome development, but it falls short of the standards articulated by the U.S. and Mexican bishops last year, according to congressional testimony submitted today.
"I welcome President Bush's decision to engage the important issue of immigration reform," said Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, Chairman of the U.S. bishops' Migration Committee. "It is significant that the President recognizes that our immigration system is broken and in need of reform. We agree with these views and with the idea that legal avenues should be created to allow migrants to enter our nation in safety and security."
Bishop Wenski added, however, that the Administration plan is too narrow and does not include sufficient safeguards to ensure that workers' rights are protected.
"It is critical to understand that truly comprehensive immigration reform is necessary to address our current immigration crisis. In this regard, we have serious concerns about the scope and type of reform the president proposes."
A joint pastoral letter by the U.S. and Mexican bishops last year called for comprehensive immigration reform that features:
- a broad-based legalization to allow the undocumented an opportunity to become permanent residents;
- reform of the U.S. family-based immigration system to ensure that families are reunited in a timely fashion;
- and changes in the employment-based immigration system to allow workers to work in the United States legally and with appropriate safeguards to ensure their rights are protected.
The letter also calls for a reexamination of the U.S. "border blockade" strategy, which has been employed along the U.S.-Mexican border over the past ten years.
"We are disappointed that the Administration plan does not allow those who work in the program the opportunity to access, after some period of time, permanent residency and possible citizenship, if they so choose," Bishop Wenski said. However, he commended the President's intention to create more permanent visas so immigrants can access permanent residency through sponsorship by an employer or family member.
Bishop Wenski also decried the public rhetoric which has characterized the immigration debate, saying immigrant workers should be treated with respect and dignity.
"We are concerned that some of the public rhetoric surrounding this issue since the President's announcement has minimized the importance of immigrant workers to our nation," he said. "We call upon all parties to the debate to recognize the basic human dignity of the migrant and to avoid xenophobic and anti-immigrant attitudes which only serve to lessen us as a community and a nation."
Bishop Wenski submitted his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship.
The full text of the joint U.S.-Mexican pastoral, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, is available on the Web at: www.usccb.org/mrs/stranger.shtml