Among the concerns he raised were strict eligibility requirements and obstacles, which will "leave many behind" in the path to citizenship. Rather than the 13-year path currently in the bill, he hopes for a period of no more than 10 years.
He also called for the possibility of citizenship to be extended to those who came to the U.S. after the bill's Dec. 31, 2011 cut-off date, and advocated a reduction in the fees and penalties that must be paid, "so that also poor migrants and their families can attain citizenship."
"If the goal is to solve the problem in a humane manner, then all undocumented persons should be able to participate," concluded Archbishop Gomez.
Bishop Wester emphasized that immigration reform must be comprehensive, pointing out that enforcement-only policies "don't work, if they aren't complemented by human policies." The focus on enforcement, he said, has failed to stem the tide of immigration.
A comprehensive approach, as outlined in the new Senate bill, "would increase legal avenues for migrants to enter our nation safely and securely," he observed.
However, he also expressed concern over the border security "triggers." It would be "best to de-link these triggers from the other elements of the bill," he said, and all elements should be implemented "simultaneously," for the sake and safety of American immigrants.
Bishop Wester noted that immigration is not merely a political issue, but a "human and moral" one. He hopes for the bill's debate to be characterized by "civil and respectful" dialogue.
"Too often we hear human beings being referred to with pejorative terms and being de-humanized and demonized in the rhetoric of the debate, and it's important for us to be careful to remember that we're talking about human beings," he said.
Cardinal Dolan added that while the bishops are often caricatured as opposing any type of immigration control, Catholic teaching has constantly affirmed the right to national security. However, he said, building higher fences with more barbed wire is not going to change the reality of immigration and is "counter-productive."
Rather than focusing on physical obstacles, border security could be more effectively achieved by spending a fraction of that money improving the economies of Latin American countries, he suggested.
"If there were family unification," he added, "and a legitimate, just, and expedited path to citizenship, we wouldn't have so many people trying to sneak through the desert and trying to dodge the walls."
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Catholics should be quick to support "fair immigration reform," the cardinal continued, because any Catholic family need go back only a few generations to "find an immigrant that came over."
Appleby estimated that the process of approving the immigration reform bill could stretch into the end of summer of autumn. He expects that it should be out of committee by the end of May and debated on the Senate floor in June, and from there be passed on to the House. The group noted hopefully the political expediency of passing the bill, given the impact of the Latino electorate in last year's elections.
"We're hopeful but not naïve, and we have a long fight ahead of us," Cardinal Dolan concluded.
"We've got a few complaints about the current legislation, as thrilled as we are about it as a sign of progress, but we know that even that is going to have a tough time getting through."
Despite the bill's flaws, he re-iterated that the bishops "are on board with this one."