The U.S. bishops are reiterating their appeal to President Obama and the newly elected members of Congress to enact just and humane immigration reform within the coming year.

"I am heartened by the recent public statements of the leaders of both political parties supporting the consideration of comprehensive immigration reform in the new Congress," said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the U.S. bishops' migration committee.

"I urge the President and Congress to seize the moment and begin the challenging process of fashioning a bipartisan agreement," he said in a statement released on Nov. 13, during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.

Observing the "family separation, exploitation, and the loss of life caused by the current system," the archbishop called for work towards a system "which upholds the rule of law, preserves family unity, and protects the human rights and dignity of the person."

"Millions of persons remain in the shadows, without legal protection and marginalized from society," he said. "As a moral matter, this suffering must end."

Noting "the unprecedented bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform expressed during the last week," he also encouraged Catholics to speak out in support of addressing the issue in a timely manner.

In a press conference shortly after the statement's release, Archbishop Gomez explained that "we are urging the President Obama administration and also the congressional leadership to act on this obvious need in our country."

"It's an absolute need," he said.

Bishops at the press conference highlighted the plight of immigrant communities who are living peacefully and seeking to become full members of society.

The U.S. bishops "have been consistent and firm and very much united with many of the immigrant communities" in calling for a serious discussion on the issue, said Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento.

He explained that just and humane reform is necessary "not only for the sake of the immigrant communities but also, I believe, for the sake of American society."

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City pointed out that the bishops have been calling for comprehensive immigration reform for decades.

He stressed that "this would be a great time for bipartisan support for something that's really a human issue and a moral issue and transcends just simply being a political issue."

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said that he has witnessed a growing interest in addressing immigration among the business community, which recognizes the timeliness of the issue. This is encouraging, he explained, because "we need more voices at the table."

"We need political leadership," he said. "We need community leadership."