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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 22, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 10Oakland, CA

U.S. bishops wary of Guard troops at border

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President George W. Bush’s address May 15 on immigration reform got mixed reviews from advocates for immigrants, who expressed gratitude for his support of legalization for illegal immigrants but had concerns about his plan to deploy National Guard troops on the border.

Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Policy, said he welcomed the president’s speech on the need to reform the immigration system, but expressed concern about “the introduction of military personnel because there has not been an adequate public discussion about its implications, especially for the treatment of migrants.”

In his first such nationwide address on a domestic policy matter, Bush gave his most explicit support to date for a program that would provide a way for most of the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country to legalize their status. He proposed requiring them to pay a fine and back taxes, learn English and hold a job for an undefined set number of years to be allowed to stay in the country.

Much of the president’s speech focused on border enforcement. He said up to 6,000 members of the National Guard would be sent to the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, where they would assist the Border Patrol in jobs such as intelligence analysis, installation of fences and barriers, building roads and providing training.

In his statement, issued in Washington prior to Bush’s address, Bishop Barnes reiterated the U.S. bishops’ position that “the real solution to the immigration crisis lies in a comprehensive approach to the problem.

This approach must include a long-term strategy to address the root causes of flight, such as combating poverty in sending countries.”
“It also must include comprehensive reform of our nation’s immigration laws which features an opportunity to earn citizenship for the undocumented in our country and the creation of legal avenues for migration for migrants to work and join families in a safe, orderly, and humane manner,” the bishop said.

“We are hopeful that the president also will commit himself to these elements as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill,” he added.

The bishop said immigration is an issue of “urgent national priority.” He said the U.S. bishops for several years “have urged our elected officials to address our nation’s immigration crisis in a just, humane and comprehensive manner.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., co-author of an immigration bill approved this spring by the Senate Judiciary Committee but still awaiting final resolution, said in a statement that he is concerned that “the urgent work of immigration reform is not sidetracked by the president’s proposal to use the National Guard at the border.”

Kennedy said Bush’s leadership “is essential as we fight to fix our broken system once and for all.”

Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, called the U.S. immigration system “broken” and said he hoped the president’s call for a comprehensive solution “ends the effort by some in Congress to focus only on punitive enforcement-only solutions.”

A U.S. Border Patrol agent rides along the fence separating Tijuana, Mexico, from California, May 15. The Border Patrol recently reported that it had arrested 724,613 undocumented migrants crossing from Mexico into the U.S. along the 2,000-mile border since Oct. 1 last year, a rise of 6 percent from the same period a year earlier.


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