An immigration plan by House Republican leaders, aimed at both national security and pathways to legal status for undocumented migrants, has prompted calls for further dialogue and improvement.
Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said in a Jan. 31 statement that while some aspects of the document are “troubling,” it “represents an important step” in the right direction.
“Achieving just immigration reform will not be an easy task and will require bipartisan cooperation and leadership, not politics,” the bishop stressed, adding that the Church “stands ready to assist in this effort.”
His comments came in response to an immigration plan outline released by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The short outline does not give details on specific policy plans, but offers principles to guide the GOP’s approach to immigration reform in the House.
The House standards reject a previous comprehensive immigration reform bill put forth by a bipartisan group in the Senate, instead suggesting a “step-by-step, common-sense approach that starts with securing our country’s borders, enforcing our laws, and implementing robust enforcement measures.”
The document emphasizes border security, visa tracking and employment verification, as well as a “zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas in the future” after immigration reform is enacted.
However, it also acknowledges that America’s “national and economic security depend on requiring people who are living and working here illegally to come forward and get right with the law.”
While it would not allow a “special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation's immigration laws,” the plan would pave the way for these individuals to “live legally and without fear in the U.S.” if they are “willing to admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and be able to support themselves and their families.”
It also called for “legal residence and citizenship” for children who were brought into the country illegally “through no fault of their own” if certain eligibility standards are met, including military service or a college degree.
These reforms would not be initiated, however, “before specific enforcement triggers,” or security goals, “have been implemented.”
Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy for the U.S. bishops’ conference, told CNA Feb. 3 that while the change in policy is “an important step,” some concerns still remain.
“It’s a floor not a ceiling: there’s room for improvement,” Appleby said.
While the new principles may “ease the path of many,” he said, the bishops’ conference is still “certainly concerned about the undocumented,” and the possibility of deportation, particularly since there was no indication of how long the process for gaining legal status might take.
Furthermore, the principles suggested work visas but did not discuss any plans for immigrants with family in the United States, Appleby said.
He also questioned “the idea of triggers,” or “undefined border security goals,” noting that the language echoed that of other problematic policies.
While the latest Republican outline did not elaborate on what “enforcement triggers” would entail, he cautioned that they should not include measures penalizing “acts of kindness” toward undocumented migrants or laws allowing state and local police to act as deportation and detainment personnel.
Bishop Elizondo echoed these concerns in his commentary on the House Republican leadership’s statement.
“While we are pleased that there is a willingness to extend legal protection to those without status, we are concerned that most would be unable to achieve citizenship, leaving them as a permanent underclass - a minority without the same rights and protections of the majority,” the bishop said.
“The process of meeting border security goals could take years continuing to leave millions vulnerable to deportation,” he noted.
“This would establish a troubling precedent that is inconsistent with our nation’s founding principles.”
Despite these concerns, Bishop Elizondo welcomed the principles as the beginning of a Congressional conversation on immigration reform, “which hopefully will spark action in the House of Representatives to finally address our nation’s broken immigration system.”
“Congress must seize the moment and end the suffering of immigrants and their families,” he said.