Two United States Catholic bishops involved in immigration issues have written to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to express their concern about the protocols and the increased law enforcement activity of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE).
The bishops asked the agency to adopt policies that would assist the families and communities affected by immigration enforcement actions. They also asked that the agency refrain from conducting enforcement actions at or near churches, hospitals, schools, or charitable organizations.
Bishop of Salt Lake City John Wester, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Bishop Jaime Soto, coadjutor bishop of Sacramento and Chairman of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, wrote the letter requesting policy changes to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and his undersecretary Julie Meyers.
“Although ICE has recently issued guidance regarding worksite enforcement operations, we believe that the guidance falls short of what is necessary," the bishops wrote.
Bishops Wester and Soto urged the release of primary caregivers after immigration enforcement actions and the improvement of family members’ ease in locating detained relatives. Detained individuals should have better access to legal counsel, and ICE should avoid transferring detainees out of their community.
Community outreach and education programs should be developed to follow enforcement actions, the bishops said, and enforcement should be suspended during natural and man-made disasters.
In an additional statement on February 7, Bishop Wester criticized the recent congressional economic stimulus package that prohibited undocumented immigrants from receiving tax rebates.
“The decision to prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving tax rebates in the stimulus bill highlights the injustice in our immigration system. It proves that these workers pay into the tax system and help support our economy. It also reveals the hypocrisy of our laws. With one hand our government attempts to deport these workers, but with the other it holds tight the taxes they pay into the system. This perpetuates an underclass of workers without full rights,” Bishop Wester said.
“We should not accept the fruits of the labor of these workers at the same time we refuse to provide them the protection of our laws. As a democratic and free nation protective of human rights, we cannot have it both ways. Congress must mend a broken system and show the courage to enact comprehensive immigration reform," he continued.