November 16, 2000
1. We, the bishops of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, at our annual meeting in Washington, D.C., call upon our federal policymakers to reexamine our immigration laws and enact legislative and administrative reforms which uphold the basic dignity and human rights of immigrants and preserve the unity of the immigrant family.
2. Immigrants from lands across the globe have helped build our great nation. Newcomers have contributed to our nation by strengthening our cultural and social fabric and adding their energies and ideas to our economy. Their presence has enriched our local communities, rural areas, and cities, and their faith in God has enlightened our increasingly secularized culture. In this Jubilee Year 2000 and throughout the new century, we recommit ourselves to celebrate and embrace newcomers and acknowledge the rich contributions they make to our nation.
3. The Catholic Church has historically held a strong interest in immigration and how public policy impacts immigrants seeking a new life in the United States. We believe that the current configuration of our immigration laws combined with immigration policies pursued by our government in the last several years have had the negative effects of undermining the human dignity of immigrants and dividing immigrant families. We urge our federal policymakers to revise our nation's immigration laws and policies in a manner which includes the following elements: legalization for the maximum number of persons in an undocumented or irregular legal status, particularly those who have lived here for several years and built equities in and otherwise contributed to their communities; enforcement policies, most particularly along the United States-Mexico border, which respect the human dignity and human rights of all immigrants, regardless of their legal status; revision of the 1996 immigration laws, which undermine the procedural due process rights of immigrants in our country, limit protections for asylum seekers, and are retroactive in nature; revision of the 1996 welfare law, which severely restricts the eligibility of legal immigrants for public benefits; repeal of mandatory detention of immigrants and development of alternatives to detention, especially for women and children, as well as the release of immigrants who have completed their sentences but are indefinitely detained because their country of origin will not accept their return; enforcement of and respect for the civil and workplace rights of immigrant workers, especially those in industries which rely heavily on foreign workers (i.e., agriculture, meat and poultry processing, service); a more efficient legal immigration system with reduced waiting times which is equitable, generous, and based upon family reunification; U.S. foreign and economic policies which fully address the conflict, poverty, and denial of human rights which pressure persons to come to this country; and a religious worker visa program which is permanently authorized and which more efficiently permits foreign religious workers into our country to perform pastoral work on behalf of the Catholic Church in the United States and all other U.S. religious denominations.
4. While we recognize the right and acknowledge the responsibility of the U.S. government to secure our national borders and do not condone or encourage undocumented migration into the United States, we nevertheless affirm the dignity of undocumented persons who live in our midst and make every effort to ensure that their human rights are respected and protected. Until such time as the global community effectively addresses the root causes of undocumented migration, individual nations must confront the presence of undocumented persons in a manner which upholds their basic dignity and human rights.
5. At the advent of a new Congress and new Administration, now is a good time to reevaluate our nation's immigration laws and policies. The American people must consider how to embrace the contributions of immigrants and, in the process, better our communities and nation. Our elected leaders must build an immigration system which acknowledges the increasing interdependence of our world and accounts for the migration streams which characterize the new globalization.
6. We, the U.S. Catholic bishops, stand ready to work with our public officials to fashion a new immigration model which prepares our nation for the 21st century while also upholding and respecting the human rights and dignity of immigrants and their families. We do so as pastors devoted to providing the full range of pastoral, legal, and social services to newcomers to our land. We offer, in particular, the experience of our nationwide refugee resettlement and legal immigration networks as a source of information on the needs and aspirations of newcomers in our country and on the reforms that are necessary in our nation's laws and policies.
7. At the threshold of a new millennium, our nation must revisit its historic roots and reexamine attitudes, laws, and policies toward newcomers who come to our land in search of a better life. We call upon all Catholics and citizens of good will to heed our Lord's call and challenge: "For I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Matthew 25:35)