The desperation of many immigrants who have no choice but to break existing U.S. laws shows the need for comprehensive immigration reform, said the head of the U.S. bishops’ migration efforts.
Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Migration, told CNA that while some migrants break U.S. immigration laws to enter and work in the country, their worth as “my brothers and sisters” is not diminished.
“There are many things that are lawful that are immoral,” he noted, adding that simply because an action “is unlawful doesn't mean it is immoral.”
The bishop explained that a wide array of circumstances place people in a situation where they are forced to break the law in order to provide for their families, and that this situation calls for a change in the laws to reflect what is moral and just.
Bishop Elizondo spoke to CNA after a May 29 Mass at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill. The Mass was held by a group of bishops from across the U.S. who had come to speak up about the importance of reforming current immigration policies.
Lawmakers and leaders of faith, business and labor groups were invited to the Mass, which was offered for immigrants and their families who have been separated from one another as a result of current U.S. immigration policy.
“When laws fail to advance the common good, they can and they should be changed,” said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, who delivered the homily.
Reflecting on the parable of the Good Samaritan, he explained that laws “must take into account both human dignity and the national interest.”
Current U.S. immigration laws are “ill adapted” to the challenges of today, the archbishop said.
Also at the Mass were Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley of Washington, D.C., and Bishops Oscar Cantu and Emeritus Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M.
Before the Mass, the bishops met with young people who were brought to the United States by their parents when they were children. Known as “DREAMers,” these individuals have grown up in the U.S., but many face a wide array of challenges due to their family's lack of documentation.
Afterwards, the bishops met with several members of the House of Representatives, including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio). During a press conference after the Mass, they said that they are also working to ask U.S. President Barack Obama to issue an executive order so that immigrant families can more easily stay together.
The May 29 Mass was part of the bishops’ larger Mission for Migrants. Last month, a group of bishops visited the U.S.-Mexico border to say Mass in remembrance of migrants who died during their journey to cross it.
Momentum behind immigration reform increased last year as a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators worked together to introduce legislation aimed at both providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and securing the U.S. border. In June 2013, the Senate approved the bill in a bipartisan 68-32 vote. However, it stalled in the House of Representatives amid sharp divisions within Republican leadership.
The U.S. bishops’ conference has laid out several goals for comprehensive immigration reform, including an “earned legalization program” with an “eventual path to citizenship” for those who pass background checks and pay a fine, along with “targeted, proportional, and humane” enforcement measures.
The conference has also called for a program to help low-skilled migrant workers to enter and work in the U.S. legally, as well as the restoration of due process protections for immigrants, an emphasis on family unification, and policy changes to address the deeper causes of immigration.
Bishop Elizondo explained that the bishops’ conference is hoping to make the moral case for immigration reform during this “key moment for the government,” with the hope of enacting some sort of change before the end of the president's term in January 2017.
He called on Catholics to provide “testimony, witness” on behalf of migrant persons, emphasizing that “they have feelings, they have hopes and they have dreams,” as well as the potential to play a vital role within the U.S. Church.
Archbishop Wenski pleaded for a change to the “broken” and “cynical” system, calling current laws a “stain on the soul of the nation” for their role in keeping “families separated for an intolerable length of time” and placing people who are trying to make a living in dangerous situations.
In addition, the undocumented status of many families leads to the creation of “a new underclass” of people who lack access to the same legal structures and institutions as other residents, he said.
“We're asking Congress, the House, to act,” the archbishop said. “Laws are designed to the benefit – not the harm – of humankind.”