September 16, 2006
Religious leaders push for
comprehensive immigration bill
Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Garcia of Sacramento, second from right, joins (left to right) the Rev. Carol Been, Maria Reyes of Mujeres Unidas (Women United) and the Rev. Jose La Torre in a march to the state Capitol Sept. 12 to urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation affecting immigrants in the state.
Luis Gris Elizarrarás/
Herald photo
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — It’s time for House and Senate leaders to come through with legislation dealing with immigration, said the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration and a panel of interfaith leaders.

In a Sept. 12 statement, Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., said the only way to protect the integrity of U.S. borders and the human dignity of immigrants is to adopt a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Leaders in the House and Senate have said there’s almost no chance to pass a comprehensive immigration bill before Congress recesses for the November election. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has said some of the security provisions included in a House-passed enforcement-only immigration bill might be attached to funding legislation before the end of the session after the November elections.

Father Michael Leonard of the Chicago Irish Immigrant Support Center said in a telephone press conference by religious leaders Sept. 12 that Hastert’s proposed approach is troubling.

“It is disturbing because it means political expediency is taking over for policy,” Father Leonard said. “They’re going to take a piecemeal approach to placate the conservative wing of the party.”

On the same teleconference, Sister Anne Curtis, a member of the leadership team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, said she “can’t emphasize enough how critical it is that religious leaders find whatever way they can to influence elected officials.”

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., an evangelical who heads the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said Hispanic evangelical pastors are mobilizing in all 50 states to oppose legislation that only emphasizes the enforcement of immigration laws without taking into account how that would affect the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country and their families.

“I can guarantee the Latino church in America will not stand idly by and allow an enforcement-only bill to pass,” said Rev. Rodriguez.

Bishop Barnes’ statement reiterated the position of the U.S. bishops that any attempt to solve the nation’s immigration problems should include a path to legalization and citizenship for the people already here illegally; a temporary worker program that protects the rights of laborers; reforms in the family immigration system to reduce backlogs and shorten wait times; and restoration of due process.

He said enforcement is an important component, but cautioned that “enforcement measures should not undermine the fairness of our laws and should ensure that the human dignity of the person is protected.”

The Rev. Mari Castellanos of the United Church of Christ said in the teleconference that many religious leaders share a concern that families would be torn apart by a law that seeks only to crack down on illegal immigrants.

“We speak a lot about family values, but this is a prime case of not putting family values into our legislation,” she said.

In Sacramento Sept. 12, clergy and religious leaders resenting Islamic, Jewish and Christian organizations from throughout California participated in a march and prayer service and later delivered a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger urging him to sign key immigration legislation.

“As people of faith, we approach immigration with an unwavering conviction in the dignity and worth of every individual,” said the letter delivered to the governor. “Our religious traditions – flowing from many beliefs and many lands – demand that we respect all people, promote justice, and demonstrate compassion.”

The letter was signed by representatives of more than 25 religious and community organizations, including the California Catholic Conference, Catholic Charities of California, PICO California, Catholic Charities of California, the California Interfaith Council, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the California Council of Churches, the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The religious leaders urged Schwarzenegger to sign bills regarding naturalization services, access to public benefits for human trafficking victims, court interpreters, student financial aid, and minimum wage and overtime compensation for household workers.

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