The current U.S. immigration system is “morally unacceptable,” said Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino.
The chairman of the Migration Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) made this comment when he outlined the USCCB’s recommendations for immigration reform in a testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The Catholic Church holds a strong interest in the welfare of immigrants and how our nation welcomes newcomers from all lands,” said Bishop Barnes. “The current immigration system, which can lead to family separation, suffering, and even death, is morally unacceptable and must be reformed.”
Citing a long history of Catholic social teaching on migration, including a historic joint pastoral letter by the bishops of the United States and Mexico in 2003, Bishop Barnes noted that the Church’s interest in migrants “stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image.”
Bishop Barnes detailed the USCCB’s policy recommendations in six broad categories, which address the economic root causes of migration; legalization of the undocumented; employment-based immigration; family-based immigration; due process; and enforcement.
In addressing the economic root causes of migration, the bishop recommended that Congress examine NAFTA’s impact on low-skilled Mexican workers and to consider ways to mitigate the negative impacts which lead to migration and consider an economic package which targets sectors of the Mexican economy.
The system should allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. the opportunity to obtain permanent residency,” either because of contributions already made or through a prospective work requirement,” Bishop Barnes said. This would keep families together, improve wages and working conditions for all workers, and promote development and stability in Mexico and Central America.
The bishop also said the statutory limits on family immigration, enacted in 1990, are now inadequate and can lead to waits of more than eight years for spouses to reunited or parents to reunite with minor children. Adult siblings can wait up to 20 years or longer.
“Such lengthy waiting times are unacceptable and can actually provide unintentional incentive for some migrants to come to the United States illegally,” Bishop Barnes said.
While reaffirming the Catholic Church’s recognition of nations’ rights to protect their borders, Bishop Barnes also said the human dignity of the individual must be protected in any law enforcement action. “We have grown increasingly concerned that the U.S. immigration enforcement regime violates basic human dignity and has placed the lives of migrants at risk,” he said.
Bishop Barnes again endorsed the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act (AgJobs) and the Development, Relief, and Education Act for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) and urged their inclusion in any comprehensive reform package.
“We are hopeful that, as our public officials debate this issue, immigrants, regardless of their legal status, are not blamed for the social and economic challenges we face as a nation,” Bishop Barnes said. “Rhetoric which attacks the human dignity of the migrant does not serve the interest of fair deliberation and leads to polarization and division.”