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CURRENT ISSUE:  April 3, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 7Oakland, CA

Debate on immigrant justice

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As hundreds of thousands of people marched in cities across the country in support of comprehensive immigration reform, Catholic bishops in various states joined the chorus of voices calling on Congress to do more than crack down on illegal immigrants.

At an interfaith prayer service at the Capitol on March 27, several hundred clergy asked for God’s guidance on Senate deliberations on immigration legislation.

The Senate Judiciary Committee answered most of the prayers, for the time being, anyway. The committee voted 12-6 to send the full Senate a bill that would give the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country a chance to legalize their status and would provide 1.5 million temporary visas to agricultural workers in a new guest worker program. Another 400,000 “green cards” or permanent resident visas would be available to people in various industries.

The bill would double the size of the Border Patrol and provide more funds for high-tech equipment to monitor the border.

The Senate began debate on the bill the next day. Floor discussion is expected to take two weeks before the Senate votes.

Whatever the final Senate bill looks like, it will need to be reconciled with legislation passed in the House in December that deals only with enforcement-related issues. It is those provisions that have provoked the most protest over the past few weeks.

Even in their approval of enforcement provisions, the Senate committee rejected many elements included in the House bill.
The committee refused to adopt amendments like those in the House bill that would make it a crime to be in the United States illegally or to provide assistance to undocumented immigrants.
Illegal immigration currently is a violation of civil law. Religious organizations are among the most vocal opponents of those provisions in the House bill.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., repeatedly questioned whether proposed amendments to criminalize aiding illegal immigrants would create problems for a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, which takes in women and children regardless of their legal status.

One of several amendments proposed by Sens. John Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, would have required anyone who provides humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants to register first with the federal government.

“You’d be asking every religious organization, humanitarian organization, every employee, every volunteer to be certified by the Department of Homeland Security before they can serve soup at a domestic abuse shelter,” Durbin suggested.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said while he understood the motives for ensuring that nobody uses the “religious setting” for criminal purposes, such as a front for human smugglers, “we have laws on that already. The criminal statutes already cover that.”

Four Republican members, including chairman Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, joined committee Democrats in approving most parts of the legislation individually and in the final vote on the whole bill.

The finished version closely mirrors most of a proposal by Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., which had the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and dozens of other religious, immigrants’ rights, business and union groups.

Among the key principles endorsed by the bishops are:
• That any legislation provide a way for people who are already in the country illegally to “come out of the shadows, regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria and, over time, pursue an option to become lawful permanent residents and eventually” U.S. citizens.

• That the system of immigration for family reunification be revamped to significantly reduce waiting times, which now run many years for some categories of relatives of legal U.S. residents. The backlog is considered to be a factor in why some people try to enter the country illegally and in the breakup of families.

• That any system for “guest workers” to fill jobs in the United States includes legal avenues for workers and their families who wish to remain in the country to do so.

• That border enforcement policies respect individuals and protect human rights, while allowing the government to identify terrorists and dangerous criminals and prevent their entry.




Thousands of demonstrators march toward Los Angeles City Hall during a March 25 rally expressing opposition to a House-passed immigration bill that calls for tougher border protection and stiffens penalties for undocumented immigrants and those who help them.
CNS PHOTO/REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

 


Sacramento Auxiliary Bishop Richard Garcia speaks at the state capitol on immigration reform after leading worshippers to the site from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, March 26.
LUIS GRIS PHOTO

 


More than a thousand people gather outside the U.S. Capitol, March 27, to protest a House-passed immigration bill that stiffens penalties for undocumented immigrants and those who help them. The protest took place while the Senate Judiciary Committee was drafting a bill backing a guest-worker program.
CNS PHOTO/Bob Roller

 

Thousands of demonstrators march toward Los Angeles City Hall during a March 25 rally expressing opposition to a House-passed immigration bill that calls for tougher border protection and stiffens penalties for undocumented immigrants and those who help them.
CNS PHOTO/REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

 


Fernando Lopez, 4, waves an American flag while riding on the back of his father, Julio, during a “Day Without Latinos” march, March 23. The Milwaukee Archdiocese supported the event and many parishes participated.
CNS PHOTO/SAM LUCERO/Catholic Herald

 


In a march that began at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, thousands of people walk through through southwest Detroit March 27 in opposition to H.R. 4437, proposed legislation that would criminalize providing assistance to illegal immigrants.
CNS PHOTO/PHIL McCARTEN/Reuters


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