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Senate passes immigration bill; action praised locally

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From Catholic News Service and Staff Reports

WASHINGTON  — The diverse coalition of faith, labor, business and civil rights activists who are trying to rework the nation’s immigration system celebrated the June 27 Senate passage of a massive reform bill.

The bill moves to the House, where Speaker John Boehner has said he would not allow it on the floor unless a majority of Republicans support it, which they do not. Instead, the House is taking a piecemeal approach, with separate bills focusing first on border security.

In a 68 to 32 vote, the Senate passed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Competitiveness, and Immigration Modernization Act, which would massively ramp up enforcement on the southern border, adding 700 miles of fencing and doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, to the tune of $46.3 billion.

The bill also provides a path to legalization and ultimately citizenship for many of the nation’s estimated 11 million immigrants who are here illegally. Other provisions would change the systems for family reunification immigration, for farm labor immigration and temporary workers; give young adults a quicker path to citizenship under the DREAM Act; and address problems with employer verification, immigrant detention and where enforcement raids are conducted.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Senate has advanced comprehensive immigration reform through a strong, bi-partisan majority,” said Tony Stieritz, Director of the Office of Catholic Social Action, speaking on behalf of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  “While the bill is far from perfect, it is a step forward in finally establishing some law and order to our broken system and respecting the rights and family unity of migrants.

“Echoing the position of our bishops, thousands of Catholics throughout the Archdiocese have asked our Senators to support such reforms,” Stieritz said. “We now look forward to working with our local elected officials in the U.S. House to see this process through.  By the end of this year, we hope to have an improved immigration system that restores order and promotes human dignity,” Stieritz said.

Vice President Joe Biden exercised his prerogative to preside over the late-afternoon vote, which was met by cheers of “yes, we can,” from the visitor gallery of the Senate chamber. The outbursts were quickly silenced, according to rules of Congress that prohibit any demonstrations.

Among those commending the Senate for completing the bill and for the bipartisan cooperation it took was Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, who urged the House of Representatives to do the same.

Archbishop Gomez, who chairs the Committee on Migration of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops disagree with elements of the bill, particularly “the unprecedented buildup of enforcement resources along the southern border, they see the legislation as an overall improvement upon the status quo.”

In a statement, he said the current system causes much suffering among immigrants and their families. The Senate bill “would allow immigrants and their families to come out of the shadows and into the light and would protect families from separation.”

Among changes to the legislation that the archbishop said the USCCB would seek as the House proceeds are making the path to citizenship “more accessible and achievable.”

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