Saying that immigration reform is not amnesty, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City has claimed the “broken” immigration system helps exploit migrant workers and causes some to die in the desert. He urged that lawfulness be restored to the U.S. immigration system while also accommodating the great need for unskilled labor.
Speaking in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, he responded to claims that the bishops disrespect the rule of law.
The bishops have “consistently” respected the right of a country to control its borders, but the Church “has the right to work to change laws which are believed to violate basic human dignity, dignity imbued by the Creator,” Bishop Wester explained to Our Sunday Visitor's readers.
The prelate said the U.S. bishops support “comprehensive” immigration reform to create a system based on “legal presence and legal entry.” He claimed this would restore the rule of law to “a chaotic system” while protecting the dignity of immigrants.
The reform would require those who have broken the law to pay a fine, pay owed back taxes and learn English. He said these requirements rebut claims that immigration reform is a kind of amnesty, since amnesty is a benefit granted “without anything in return.”
The “broken” U.S. immigration system adds to the exploitation of migrant workers and increases both their abuse by “ruthless” smugglers and their deaths in the desert, the bishop charged. “They come illegally because there are insufficient visas under the current system to come legally,” he said.
According to the Salt Lake City bishop, the immigration system provides 5,000 permanent visas for unskilled laborers to come to the U.S., but the demand is much higher. As many as 300,000 new unskilled laborers are needed each year.
“Despite assertions to the contrary, the U.S. bishops do not support ‘open borders’,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. He professed support for “reasonable” immigration policies that serve the common good.
Discussing the strain of illegal immigration on social services, the bishop criticized several “myths.”
He said that over an immigrant’s lifetime he or she is a net contributor to the economy through the taxes they pay, and through their labor and consumption.
Legal immigrants do not qualify for welfare or health care during the first five years they reside in the country and undocumented immigrants never qualify, he stated.
According to Bishop Wester, undocumented immigrants pay “billions” in income taxes each year and at least $7 billion in Social Security taxes at a time when it will soon need to support the baby boomer generation. Giving legal status to the undocumented would generate even more government revenue.
He also advised that reforms should try to address “push factors” that compel immigrants to leave home.
Immigration reform should help bring the 11 million undocumented immigrants “out of the shadows,” the bishop told Our Sunday Visitor. Regularizing immigration would ease pressure on the border by freeing up law enforcement to focus upon drug smugglers, human traffickers and would-be terrorists and not “those simply looking for a job.”