Commenting on President Obama's speech on immigration reform Thursday morning, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops migration director told CNA that the address was a “good sign” that the president is concerned and involved with the issue.
On July 1, President Obama spoke on the need to reform the country's “broken” immigration system, condemning partisanship and stressing the necessity of both parties working together to pass immigration reform. The president also criticized states such as Arizona for taking “ill-conceived” steps in devising their own legislative responses in reforming immigration policies.
Although the speech was received by the media with mixed reactions– including some commentators saying that the president addressed nothing new in his talk – USCCB director Migration and Public Affairs Kevin Appleby said that the address was important, since “without presidential leadership, immigration reform is not going to happen.”
“It was a good sign that the president did a high profile speech laying out the administration's view on this,” Appleby said during a phone interview on Thursday, adding that “it is a major issue on his agenda that needs to be examined.”
President Obama, he asserted, is “not going to shy away from this issue while many in Washington want to not take it up.”
During his speech, the president also “made a lot of references to the faith community and faith leaders being important,” Appleby noted. The speech was attended by about 250 people, including a Methodist bishop and several evangelical leaders.
Speaking on the U.S. bishops' perspective on immigration reform, Appleby said that “at this point the bishops and the president are very close in their viewpoint.”
“Certainly they might differ on the details, especially on enforcement, but I think by and large,” the president's speech “was an affirmation of where the Church is.”
When asked what the U.S. bishops' concerns are regarding immigration reform, Appleby listed “bringing people out of the shadows” for legalization, due process issues, and exploring underlying push factors for why people are immigrating to the U.S. in the first place as some of the major points.
Ultimately, the “Catholic community is key” to reform efforts, said Appleby. “Whether you agree or disagree with what the law says, there are people that are desperate and in need of assistance.”
For Catholics to understand the need for solidarity with immigrants is an “important message,” he concluded.