Subcommittee on Immigration
Presented By His Eminence, Adam Cardinal Maida
Archbishop of Detroit
Committee on Migration
April 13, 2000
Good morning Mr. Chairman, Senator Kennedy, and Members of the Subcommittee.
I am Adam Cardinal Maida, Archbishop of Detroit.
It is a pleasure to appear before the Subcommittee again. The last time I was here was in September of 1997, and I was accompanied by Franciszek Cardinal Macharski, the Archbishop of Krakow, who succeeded Our Holy Father, and President of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City State. Not only did I have the opportunity to address with you concerns of the Church, but they had the opportunity to observe our Congressional process at work. So, I thank you for that opportunity and this one today.
Before we get started, Mr. Chairman, I would like to take a moment to extend the thanks of the U.S. Catholic Bishops for your tireless efforts on behalf of immigrants. Your courageous leadership during the 104th, 105th and in the current 106th Congress has been instrumental in upholding the rights and protection of legal immigrants, refugees, asylees and those striving to become citizens. Your efforts have resulted in preserving family unity, which is the underpinning of American society and the traditional cornerstore of U.S. immigration policy. You have supported extending meaningful protection to those fleeing persecution and have been instrumental in ensuring that the United States of America continues to be a leader in protecting those struggling for freedom. You have also supported fair access to naturalization for those who wish to embrace their adopted homeland through the privilege of U.S. citizenship. These efforts are greatly appreciated by the Catholic Church in the United States and we look forward to your continued efforts and leadership in this area. I must also thank Senator Kennedy, who has previously served as chairman of the Subcommittee and has long been a champion of these issues. Senator Kennedy, your efforts over the years, especially in this last decade, have brought much in the way of reason, balance and temperance to issues which have been used as lighting rods to feed fears and misconceptions about immigrants and refugees which have resulted in divisiveness in our communities.
As you know, I am here today to speak with you about the need for a permanent extension of the Special Immigrant "Nonminister" Religious Worker Visa Program. I am here to present my own views as the Cardinal Archbishop of Detroit as well as the views of the United States Catholic Conference representing the Catholic Bishops in the United States. Let me say at the outset that we thank you in advance for what we anticipate will be a permanent extension of the Program before it expires in September of this year.
The Special Immigrant "Nonminister" Religious Worker Visa program is very important -- not only for the religious denominations and organizations who make use of it, but also for the individuals and communities we serve because of it. Should the program be permitted to expire at the end of this fiscal year, religious organizations and denominations will lose access to the much needed contributions of these religious workers, as would the many communities in which they work.
As members of the Subcommittee are aware, Congress recognized the special needs of religious denominations and their organizations in the United States when it created certain new visa categories under the Immigration Act of 1990. These new categories permit, not only religious workers, but "non-minister" religious workers, such as religious brothers, religious sisters, catechists, cantors, pastoral service workers, and others to enter the United States to work for a religious organization at their request. These classes of religious workers must have two years experience in their religious vocation or occupation before applying to carry on their vocation or to engage in a religious occupation as a professional or other special immigrant worker. Those religious workers who are given special immigrant status share the available visas for the category with other individuals also identified as special immigrants. There are only a total of 10,000 visas that are available for special immigrants. Moreover, of this number no more than 5,000 visas can be issued to the categories which are set to expire.
Prior to enactment of the Immigration Act of 1990, religious organizations in the United States seeking the assistance of foreign born religious workers were frequently forced to use immigrant categories that were more appropriately designed for the needs of businesses and other employers. Religious organizations who needed the temporary services of religious workers from abroad were forced to navigate the complexities of the nonimmigrant business, student, and missionary visa categories.
Utilization of complex immigration categories created confusion and imposed serious obstacles. In many cases, the immigrant visa categories were oversubscribed, such as the old sixth preference category that was used by many religious sisters. Consequently, the Catholic Church, as well as other denominations, found that we could not bring in workers within a time frame that corresponded to the actual need for their services. In some instances, we could not bring them at all. It would be truly unfortunate if we found ourselves returned to that situation. It would be a disservice to our parishes, our civic communities, and most importantly, to those in need of the services that these workers provide if this category is not extended permanently.
We are particularly pleased, Mr. Chairman, that the subcommittee is considering making permanent the categories about to expire. We believe that a permanent extension would provide the stability religious organizations require to plan for their personnel needs and prevent the disruptions and uncertainty that impending terminations of this program have caused in this and previous years. As an example, the three-year deadline creates a backlog in the program every three years just prior to the expiration date because religious organizations file a large number of applications fearing the program will expire and their personnel needs will not be met for the year.
Additionally, the need to reauthorize the program every three years raises the specter that the program will not be renewed at all. Some religious workers, especially religious sisters, effectively would be precluded from obtaining permanent residence because they would fall under the category of "other workers," which presently has a backlog dating to June 1994. The over- subscribed "other workers" category presents obstacles to the timely processing of applications, as I mentioned earlier.
Finally, because of the current trend toward a lower number of vocations to religious life in this country, the program also provides security for religious organizations who still must respond to the increasing pastoral needs of a growing and diverse community they serve.
As you consider legislation to extend this important program, I also urge Congress to reject the imposition of any new, unnecessarily harsh criteria for applicants for these visas. We are aware that in the past some have raised the question of whether a few individuals have fraudulently attempted to use the religious worker visas category. I am not aware of any widespread attempts to use these visas fraudulently. Our communities and organizations comply with application requirements and produce extensive documentation to support each element of the statute and regulations to ensure that applicants qualify for their visas in compliance with the law.
As mentioned earlier, there now exists a limit of 5,000 on the number of visas that can be issued in any one year. We believe that if there is some fraudulent use of the visa categories, the small number of such visas should make it possible for those who are charged with investigating visa applications do so with an eye toward ensuring that they are being properly issued. We welcome whatever scrutiny is brought to bear on each of our applications. But we oppose imposition of any new, unnecessarily harsh criteria for applicants for these visas. To do so would undoubtedly have the unintended effect of making it next to impossible for U.S.-based religious organizations and denominations here to fill critical positions for which American-born counterparts are unavailable or unqualified.
Earlier I spoke of the pastoral work performed by these individuals in our civic communities and their significance to the Catholic Church in United States. It is critical in understanding our need for this program to recognize that the U.S. Catholic Church is uniquely an immigrant church. Our dioceses frequently need the assistance of noncitizen religious workers to minister to the immigrant population. Noncitizen workers assist newcomers meet the challenges of making the transition to their newly chosen homeland. These workers possess the language, the cultural perspective and the understanding to assist not only the newcomer but the diocese as a whole. Strong examples of this are our Asian and Hispanic communities, once emerging communities which are now significant and well-established communities. According to a recent study commissioned by the Bishops Committee on Hispanic Affairs, 30%-38% of Catholics in the
United States are Hispanic. Fully, 71% of the Catholic population growth in our country since 1960 is attributable to Hispanics.
The work of the Catholic Church in the United States would suffer dramatically without the assistance of non-minister religious workers. We estimate that more than half of the U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses benefit from the needed skills of foreign born workers. Information form dioceses across the country indicate they are engaged in ministry in parishes, in health care, in prisons, in teaching, in nursing care, and in counseling. Foreign born non-minister religious workers are integral to the diverse work carried on by the Church in our country.
Some of the work which is done in our dioceses, parishes and civic communities by noncitizen religious workers include the following:
- Pastoral ministry to members of the Catholic Church.
- Human services to the most needy, including shelter and food.
- Care for and ministering to the sick, aged, and dying in hospitals and special facilities.
- Work with adolescents and young adults to confront complicated social issues during a time when they desperately wish to be accepted by their peers.
- Assistance to religious leaders as they lead their congregations and communities in worship.
- Support to families, particularly in times of crisis, to preserve the family unit.
- Providing religious instruction to new members of the religious denomination.
- Assisting refugees and immigrants with their transition to their newly adopted homeland.
Let me describe briefly for you their work in real terms. As you know, Mr. Chairman, in our home state our religious communities are very active. You may be familiar with the Consolata Missionary Sisters in Belmont, the Dominican Sisters in Adrian and the Benedictines in St. Joseph. An example which you might be more familiar with are the Antonine Sisters, a religious congregation which belong to the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles. The sisters have only one community in the United States located in Youngstown, Ohio. Let me share a few sentences with you from a letter from the Superior of the Community describing their work:
"Our ministry in the United States is to take care on a daily basis of frail elderly and disabled adults at our Antonine Sisters' Adult Day Care... Most of our elderly have poor income and some of them live by themselves without any family member close by to take care of them. Coming to our day care gives them a strong incentive to live in hope and joy....Services range from ambulatory assistance to body mechanics, transfers, wheelchair management, feeding devices, assisting incontinent participants, observing them for symptoms, and mostly also providing the above services with love, compassion, and in a Christ-like spirit."The last time I spoke with the Committee, the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta had recently passed away and I relayed a letter from her to you, Mr. Chairman, regarding the need for these visas. As you know, the Missionaries of Charity make an important contribution in my Archdiocese and also perform important work through their houses located in other areas of the country.
In a recent communication, a Missionary Brother of Charity in Los Angeles, California, spoke of the benefit foreign born religious workers provide to the fulfillment of their mission. He spoke of the assistance they provide ministering in the streets to the Hispanic community, visiting the sick and terminally ill in their homes, and assisting the broader community. He also mentioned the benefit of one religious brother from Columbia who worked with them at their day center for homeless youth and women, where he provided individuals a place to rest, fresh clothes to wear, a bathroom and showers to care for themselves, and a full meal. As the Superior described:
"Our charism is to work with the poorest of the poor, people who are often neglected in society. Most of our work is simple, such as feeding the hungry, providing cloths, and taking the time to talk with someone. We continue the work and spirit of Mother Teresa."This is the work that I see around the nation, the assistance I need in my Archdiocese, and the contributions we need in our civic communities. This important work, which often goes unnoticed, should not be casually discarded or restricted but should be encouraged on behalf of the common good.
In closing let me just reiterate that the permanent extension of the nonminister special immigrant program is greatly needed. Failure to extend this program would substantially undermine the services that the Catholic Church in the United States provides to our parishioners and communities throughout the nation. Dramatically increasing need for charitable services in impoverished communities also makes the extension of this special immigrant visa provision timely and appropriate.
I thank you for your close attention to our views and your swift action in this matter.