Speaking for the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles told the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 26 that the country should not return to a model of immigration enforcement based on workplace raids. Instead, he urged lawmakers to seek immigration reform that is both humane and just.
“Immigration is ultimately a humanitarian issue, because it impacts the basic human rights and dignity of the human person,” he explained in his written testimony. “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops believes that the humanitarian costs of workplace raids are immeasurable, and unacceptable in a civilized society.” Archbishop Gomez chairs the conference's Committee on Migration.
With their new majority in the House of Representatives, some Republicans are seeking a return to the immigration enforcement strategies of the Bush administration, which focused on arresting groups of unauthorized migrant workers. The Obama administration has actually deported greater numbers of illegal immigrants, while shifting its enforcement focus onto employers that hire them.
Archbishop Gomez rejected any notion that the government should place its highest priority on rounding up those who have broken U.S. immigration laws. The workplace raids, he said, often had the effect of breaking up families, especially by separating children from their parents for significant periods of time.
While acknowledging the nation's duty to secure its borders and enforce civil law, Archbishop Gomez indicated that the family –as an institution which is prior to any state– must be given priority, as a matter of natural law.
Law enforcement, he said, should not be carried out in a manner that destroys the stability and integrity of vulnerable families. “The U.S. Catholic Bishops have witnessed first-hand the sufferings of immigrant families, and are deeply troubled by the collateral human consequences of enforcement raids on the family unit.”
“The U.S. Catholic Bishops believe that immigrants should come to the United States lawfully,” he stated. “But we also understand that the current immigration legal framework does not adequately reunify families, and is non-responsive to our country's need for labor.”
The economic aspect of illegal immigration is a priority for House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R–Texas), who said on the day of the immigration hearings that “citizens and legal immigrants should not be forced to compete with illegal workers for jobs.” Kumar Kibble, Deputy Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, responded to the chairman's concern by noting that a “focus on holding employers accountable” was addressing the same problem more comprehensively.
For his part, Archbishop Gomez noted that citizens and legally authorized immigrants were often unwilling to take jobs in the difficult, low-skilled industries that employ unauthorized workers. He also observed that many of these workers, particularly those from Mexico, had found it “impossible for many to earn a living wage and meet the basic needs of their families” in their country of origin.
“It is clear that another approach is necessary,” he said. “We support comprehensive immigration reform to fix what has become a broken system.”
He explained that such reform would include earned legalization for immigrants of proven character, reform of the family-based immigration system, expansion and streamlining of temporary worker programs, and greater care for immigrants' right to due process under the law.
“By increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States,” he noted, “law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would-be terrorists.”