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CURRENT ISSUE:  September 18, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 16Oakland, CA

Another push for comprehensive reform

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, 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.”

On the steps of California’s State Capitol Sept. 12, religious leaders issued an open letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, asking him to sign several immigrant-related bills including AB 2060 that provides help to legal residents wanting to complete their citizenship process.

More than 50 religious organizations signed the statement that also calls for immigration reform that creates a “fair, equitable and just system.”

“We recognize the failures of governments across many borders to adequately address the needs of people trapped in intolerable, cruel and unjust situations,” the statement said.

“And we contend that the United States has a special responsibility in this regard – both as the richest, most powerful nation on earth, and because our nation was largely built on the sweat and blood of immigrants from many lands.”

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.

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Garcia of Sacramento (second from right) joins (from left) the Rev. Carol Been, Maria Reyes, the Rev. Jose La Torre and other religious leaders in a Sept. 12 march to the state capitol to ask Gov. Schwarzenegger to support immigrant communities in California. More than 50 religious organizations signed an open letter to the governor.

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