WASHINGTON (April 4, 2006)--In a letter to the full U.S. Senate released April 4, Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, called the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA) of 2006, reported to the U.S. Senate last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, "a good start" and called upon Senators to "support efforts to bring the Judiciary committee-reported bill to a vote."
Bishop Barnes expressed support for Titles IV, V, and VI of the legislation, which would create a temporary worker program, reduce family-based immigration backlogs, and establish an earned legalization program for 11 million undocumented in the nation. "The earned legalization program…represents sound public policy because it would not only enhance our national security while stabilizing the labor force in many important industries, but it would also allow families to remain together," he said.
Bishop Barnes pointed to several provisions in Title II of the bill which the USCCB finds questionable, including mandatory detention provisions, the expansion of expedited removal, restrictions on judicial review, and the increase in the authority of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. The Bishop asked Senators to "eliminate or ameliorate these and other highly problematic provisions in Title II as the Senate debates this legislation."
But Bishop Barnes expressed optimism that the U.S. Senate, and ultimately Congress, will pass a bill which is worthy of a nation of immigrants. "Ultimately, the U.S. Catholic Bishops support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that would improve the U.S. immigration system so that it is humane, secure, and reflects the values upon which our nation- a nation of immigrants-was built," he said. "We are pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee reported a comprehensive measure rather than a measure that addressed only one aspect of our immigration problems. This is a good start but the full Senate needs to do more to make it a measure worthy of our nation's tradition as a welcoming nation," Bishop Barnes stated.
Below is a copy of Bishop Barnes' letter to the Senate.
April 3, 2006
As the Senate prepares to engage in a historic debate on immigration reform, I write to express the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' strong support for a comprehensive approach to our immigration crisis. The bishops are pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee reported the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006" (CIRA) to the full Senate, and we strongly urge the Senate to support efforts to bring the Judiciary Committee-reported bill to a vote. We also urge the Senate to oppose efforts to enact an enforcement-only immigration bill, such as the "Securing America's Borders Act" (S. 2454), which was recently introduced by Majority Leader Frist. As introduced, S. 2454 represents an enforcement-only, punitive approach to immigration, and the bishops believe its enactment would not solve our immigration crisis. Instead, it would drive undocumented immigrants further into the shadows, encourage the creation of more elaborate smuggling networks, and cause needless hardship and suffering.
The bishops do support a number of provisions in the Senate Judiciary committee-approved version of CIRA. Title VI would increase our national security by bringing a large number of the approximately 11 million undocumented aliens currently residing in the United States out of the shadows, subjecting them to security and health checks, and providing those who meet the measure's stringent requirements a path to permanent residency. Contrary to the claims of opponents, the "earned adjustment" program contained in Title VI of CIRA is not an "amnesty" or "giveaway". Instead, it would provide an opportunity for hard-working immigrants to earn their legal status over time.
Before they could do so, they would be required to pay thousands of dollars in fines, pay back taxes, learn English, clear security investigations, and work in the United States for at least six more years. The earned legalization program in Title VI of CIRA represents sound public policy, because it would not only enhance our national security while stabilizing the labor force in many important industries, but it would also allow families to remain together.
The bishops also support provisions in Title IV and V, which would establish a temporary worker program to permit future flows of workers through legal means (Title IV) and would reorder the family- and employment-based immigration preference systems (Title V). Together, these provisions would adjust our immigration policies so as to both better meet the demand for immigrants and nonimmigrants and to help reunite separated families. These changes, in turn, will reduce incentives for people to come to the United States illegally.
The bishops also strongly support several other provisions in the committee-reported version of CIRA that address the needs of specific groups of immigrants and citizens alike. These include provisions modeled after S. 359, the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits, and Security (AgJOBS) bill, that specifically address the plight of undocumented farm workers. The Judiciary-reported bill also includes provisions modeled after S. 2075, the Development, Relief, and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, that provide avenues of relief for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and who are continuing their education or who have decided to serve in the U.S. military. Finally, we deeply appreciate the amendments to CIRA that were adopted in the Judiciary Committee exempting church and other humanitarian workers who provide basic needs assistance to undocumented immigrants from criminal penalties contained in Title II and striking provisions of the bill that would have retroactively imposed penalties on immigrants. We are also pleased that the Committee rejected provisions from the House-passed version of H.R. 4437 that would criminalize unlawful presence.
While there is much to support in the Senate Judiciary Committee-reported version of CIRA, the bishops are deeply opposed to several provisions in Title II that would deprive immigrants of due process and even harm immigrants who are currently in the United States legally. We believe that as good as many of CIRA's provisions are, a number of the provisions in Title II are harmful and should be either stricken or ameliorated during Senate floor consideration of the measure.
Among the provisions in Title II that concern the bishops are those that would:
- unjustifiably expand the definition of aggravated felony, thereby rendering many deserving aliens ineligible for immigration relief;
- increase and authorize the use of indiscriminate, mandatory and indefinite detention;
- expand the use of expedited removal, thus increasing the risk that the United States might return refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, trafficking victims, battered spouses, and other vulnerable populations to situations where they may face harm;
- place unjustified limitations on judicial review at a time when the judiciary has leveled unprecedented charges that the immigration court system is making unjust decisions, and
- increase the authority of state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce civil federal immigration laws.
We hope that you will work to eliminate or ameliorate these and other highly problematic provisions in Title II as the Senate debates this legislation.
Ultimately, the U.S. Catholic Bishops support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that would improve the U.S. immigration system so that it is humane, secure, and reflects the values upon which our nation - a nation of immigrants - was built. We are pleased that the Senate Judiciary Committee reported a comprehensive measure rather than a measure that addressed only one aspect of our immigration problems. This is a good start but the full Senate needs to do more to make it a measure worthy of our nation's tradition as a welcoming nation.
In the view of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, our nation stands at an important point in her history. As you consider immigration reform in the U.S. Senate, we ask that you support Titles IV, V, and VI of CIRA. We also ask that you carefully consider striking or ameliorating the provisions in Title II which we fear would do more harm than good.
Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes
Bishop of San Bernardino
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration