The Secretariat of Central American Bishops has called on the senators of the United States to find a “humanitarian solution” to the problem of illegal immigration before accepting a new bill sponsored by Congressman James Sensenbrenner and recently passed by the House of Representatives which criminalizes illegal immigrants and those who help them.

“We exhort them to pass humanitarian legislation for workers in the United States and that will allow families to be reunited.  And for those who are undocumented, may they be able to come out from the shadows and with dignity become a part of US society to contribute to its development,” the bishops said in a statement sent to US senators.

The bishops argued that approval of the Sensenbrenner law would result in “a devastating disaster that would involve thousands of people, families and communities of the Central American region,” which is overcome “by poverty and extreme poverty.”  Most of the 11 million illegals in the US, they recalled, are Central Americans. 

The wave of immigration from Central America began in the 1970’s and 80’s as a result of the violent conflicts and economic problems that plagued the region.  Money sent back to the region by family members in the US has become the second largest source of income for Central America, the bishops said, and cutting off that source of funding would bring political, social and economic crisis to the region.

The bishops reiterated that immigrants have rights and dignity and that the efforts by US authorities to control immigration have not been as successful as had been hoped.  “As long as the immigration laws of United States and its economic agreements are not synchronized with economic realities in an equitable way, immigration in the hemisphere will continue to be a significant challenge,” they added.

They reminded senators of the importance of Central American stability for US interests and said the lawmakers should “not lose sight of how your decisions will impact your neighbors in the south.”

“In a globalized world we are called to globalize solidarity with those most excluded and marginalized,” the bishops stated.  “We must not build walls and borders, but rather bridges that unite us as brothers and sisters.”

The Sensenbrenner law passed by the US House last December requires all social and humanitarian organizations, including churches, to ask for legal documentation before helping immigrants.  It also encourages the building of a wall on the US-Mexican border.