.- The U.S. bishops welcomed a U.S. Senate committee's passage of a major immigration bill as an “important step,” urging the full senate to consider the bill as soon as possible.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, lauded the Senate Judiciary Committee’s passage of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.
The committee approved the legislation May 21 by a vote of 13-5.
“I applaud Chairman Patrick Leahy and the committee members for their efforts and strong bipartisan cooperation,” the archbishop said May 23.
He urged the senate to amend the bill to widen “the path to citizenship” and maximize the number of people who can “come out of the shadows.”
“To leave a large population behind would defeat the purpose of the bill, which is to bring persons into the light so they can become full members of our communities,” he said.
The senate's 867-page immigration bill would allow the estimated 11 million illegal residents of the U.S. to obtain provisional immigrant status six months after the bill if they meet certain conditions, the Washington Post reports.
Those eligible must have arrived in the U.S. before Dec. 31, 2011 and must have maintained continuous physical presence since then. They must also pay a $500 fine every six years.
After 10 years of provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they meet certain conditions, including paying a $1,000 fine, keeping current on their taxes and learning English. Additionally, they must meet work requirements. Those with a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanor convictions are ineligible.
These conditions are also dependent on whether the Department of Homeland Security develops and enacts adequate border security and fencing plans. Residents may obtain provisional immigrant status six months after the bill passes only if the plans are developed.
They may obtain a green card and legal permanent resident status only if border security “triggers” have been met and if the government has processed all legal immigrant applications pending upon the date of the bill’s enactment.
If passed, the bill would allow those brought to the country as youths to get green cards in five years and citizenship immediately afterward. Those deported for non-criminal reasons may apply to re-enter the U.S. with provisional status if they have a spouse or a child who is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Deportees may also apply for reentry if they were brought to the U.S. as a child.
The bishops’ conference has worked to shorten the waiting period for individuals who want to apply for permanent residency and to expand the cut-off date for eligibility. They have also asked for a relaxation of income and work requirements.
The senate bill bars citizens from sponsoring their siblings and allows them to sponsor their married children only if their children are under age 31.
In his statement Thursday, Archbishop Gomez criticized cuts to the family-based aspects of the immigration system.
“We must not abandon our focus on families, which are the backbone of our society,” he said. “Family unity, based on the union of a husband and a wife and their children, must remain the cornerstone of our nation's immigration system.”
The U.S. Senate is expected to consider the legislation in June, though its passage is not certain.
The senate bill’s counterpart in the House of Representatives faces opposition over whether federal healthcare should be prohibited for undocumented immigrants as they transition to legal resident and permanent resident status, Reuters reports. Several House Republicans have said that the senate bill will not pass the House.