A delegation of six Hispanic Catholic bishops has met with U.S. legislators to discuss topics including health care reform and immigration issues. The bishops noted that immigration and health care overlap because the failures of immigration policy will affect the health care system.
Archbishop of San Antonio José Gomez and Bishop of Sacramento Jaime Soto told a press conference on Thursday that they were “very happy” with their dialogue with the Latino congressmen and congresswomen.
The two prelates were part of the episcopal delegation which included Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico; Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo, Texas; Bishop Carlos Sevilla of Yakima, WA; and Auxiliary Bishop Edgar Da Cunha of Newark, New Jersey.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) spokeswoman Sr. Mary Ann Walsh explained at a Thursday press conference that the delegation met with legislative leaders of both parties.
“We are concerned about some of the needs of the Hispanic people in the U.S., especially in four areas,” Archbishop Gomez told the press conference. He named health care reform, immigration reform, poverty and housing and education as issues of concern.
The archbishop said that the bishops were “encouraged” by President Obama’s statement that no taxpayer funds would be used for abortions and the president’s professed support for a conscience clause for pro-life individuals and institutions.
“We will support a bill that includes those ideas from the president,” he explained, saying health care must help people “from conception until natural death” and must include immigrants.
Responding to a question about other bishops’ comments on subsidiarity, Bishop Soto said that whether health care reform takes the shape of a public system, a private system or a combination is “a matter for policy people to struggle with.”
The bishops’ task was to ensure Catholic “principles and values” are respected in health care reform. “We’re approaching it as teachers, as pastors.”
He reported that the bishops were working to ensure there is no federal support for abortion and to ensure the character of Catholic institutions is respected in law.
Archbishop Gomez reported that all but one of the meetings with lawmakers were brief. In addition to the four main issues of concern, Bishop Soto reported, some comments pertained to human rights in Cuba and forced abortions there.
Discussing immigrant participation in proposed health care plans, Bishop Soto said that any reasonable health care reform “has to include the immigrant community.
“It has to provide, at minimum, some kind of safety net for the undocumented.”
Leaving out that segment of society would affect both their health care and impact the health of society in general, he remarked.
“Immigrants are human persons too. One way or the other, they’re going to need health care.”
A major concern for the bishops was that a “significant portion” of undocumented immigrants pay for their own health care, but there has been some discussion of not even allowing them to do that.
According to Bishop Soto, the bishops find that proposal “foolish and short-sighted” and an example of “runaway anti-immigrant rhetoric” rather than a “commonsense approach” to health care.
Turning to the topic of immigration reform, Archbishop Gomez said people in Congress would like to enact it “right away.”
Bishop Soto said that politicians generally can only focus on one major issue at a time, but he reported the bishops were encouraged by the “sincere interest” legislators have shown on the issue.
“Unless we have this comprehensive immigration reform, we will be dealing with the consequences of the failures of the immigration system not only in health care but in other areas as well.”
The USCCB released a summary of the issues the Hispanic bishops delegation discussed with legislators.
The bishops endorsed “truly universal” health care reform that respects the dignity of all and supports all legal immigrants. They expressed opposition to any ban that would prevent legal immigrants from participation for five years and advocated that any legislation include pregnant women and children regardless of their legal status.
On immigration, the bishops endorsed legalization through a program that provides an opportunity for “earned” permanent residency and a new worker program that includes a living wage. They expressed support for “family-based” immigration reform and for the restoration of due process protections for illegals.
Concerning poverty and housing, the bishops expressed support for a national housing policy to preserve and produce quality housing for low income families, the elderly and other vulnerable people. They criticized “abusive” lending practices and advocated the funding of the National Housing Trust Fund.
The Hispanic bishops encouraged federal programs that include Catholic students and teachers in federal education programs and expressed support for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. They also sought the reauthorization of the D.C. Scholarship program which helps low income students in the District of Columbia attend private schools. The bishops also endorsed the funding of students at community colleges, which many Hispanic youth attend.
In his closing comments to the press conference, Archbishop Gomez said the meeting was a “special opportunity” for the Hispanic bishops to reaffirm Catholic social teaching with elected officials and to recognize the contribution of Hispanic communities all over the U.S.
“It is a special moment for Hispanics in the life of our country,” he said.