.- Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona on Wednesday testified before Congress on the need for immigration reform, characterizing it as âultimately a humanitarian issue.â Emphasizing the dangers and difficulties migrants face, he called for the legalization of migrants who face a âproportionate penalty.â
Speaking as vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the bishop addressed the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law. His remarks came in oral testimony and in written testimony, copies of which were provided to CNA.
Bishop Kicanas noted that his diocese runs along the entire Arizona-Mexico border, which he called the âepicenterâ of migrant movement.
âI witness the human consequences of our broken immigration system in my dioceseâs social service programs, hospitals, schools, and parishes. Regularly, anxious and troubled immigrants come to ask our priests or employees for assistance for a loved oneâa parent who has been detained, a child who has lost a parent, or, tragically, a family member who has lost a loved one in the harsh Arizona desert.â
âIt is shocking to realize that about 5,000 men, women, and children have died in the desert since 1998,â he continued.
Because of the âbrokenâ system, he said, families are being separated, workers are exploited by unscrupulous employers, and migrants are being abused by human smugglers.
Bishop Kicanas warned that the undocumented immigrants do not presently have the same rights as others, a situation which âperpetuates a permanent underclass.â
âComprehensive immigration reform would honor the rule of law and help restore it by requiring 11 million undocumented to pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, and get in the back of the line,â he continued. âWe believe this a proportionate penalty for the offense.â
Legal avenues for migrantsâ entry would also free up law enforcement resources for smugglers, traffickers, and âother criminal elements.â
âChurch teaching acknowledges and upholds the right of a nation to control its borders,â he added, arguing that âenforcement-only policiesâ have not solved the problem.
Bishop Kicanas also addressed the Arizona legislation SB 1070, saying he believed the law reflects âfrustrationâ with Congress for not addressing the issue of immigration reform.
âThe message is to break the partisan paralysis and act now. Without Congressional action on immigration reform---sooner rather than later---other states will pass similar laws, to the detriment of our nation,â he commented.
The bishop also reported observing âhardening attitudes, deepening divisions, and growing rancorâ on immigration.
In his written testimony, Bishop Kicanas urged the minimization of âharsh rhetoricâ in the immigration debate and condemned terms that characterize immigrants as âless than human.â âSuch harsh rhetoric has been encouraged by talk radio and cable TV, for sure, but also has been used by public officials, including members of Congress,â he commented.
Real reform, according to the bishop, would legalize undocumented migrants and their families in the U.S., provide legal means for migrants to enter the U.S. to work, and reform family reunification. Further, the âroot causesâ of migration should be addressed so that migrants may remain in their homelands.
Describing the Catholic Church as âan immigrant Church, his written testimony noted Catholic immigration programsâ involvement in the implementation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) in the 1980s. There are currently 158 Catholic immigration programs throughout the country, he reported, saying such efforts are rooted in the belief that every person is created in Godâs image.
This Catholic response is also rooted in Scripture, he explained, citing Jesusâ words in Matthew 25: âI was a stranger and you welcomed me.â
The bishopâs testimony also urged a permanent extension of the immigrant non-minister portion of the Religious Worker Visa Program, which now permits 5,000 non-minister religious and lay persons each year to enter the U.S. to work on a permanent basis both for their denominations and for the benefit of the community.
He reported that the bishops oppose a point system for migrants which places a higher value on highly educated and skilled immigrants than on family ties. Families start family businesses, provide for each other, and contribute their talents to local neighborhoods.
âFamily reunification has been the cornerstone of the U.S. immigration system since the inception of our republic. It would be foolhardy to abandon this system, as the family unit represents the core of our society and culture.â
The testimony also reiterated the bishopsâ opposition to legislation that would grant homosexual partners the same immigration benefits as married couples, saying it would erode the institution of marriage and family and create additional controversy.
Bishop Kicanasâ statement endorsed legislation such as the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2009 and the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM).