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Bishops: Immigration reform framework a start, needs work

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

WASHINGTON — The U.S. bishops called the introduction of a framework on immigration reform by Senate leadership April 29, an “important first step” in the process of achieving enactment of comprehensive reform legislation.

The framework, developed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and endorsed by Senate leadership, attempts to lay a road map for launching negotiations toward a bipartisan immigration reform bill.

The bishops’ position was outlined April 29, by Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.

An activist shouts
An activist shouts during an April 27 rally against the new Arizona immigration law. (CNS photo/Brendan McDermid, Reuters)

“We urge members of both parties to begin a process toward introducing and enacting bipartisan legislation which affirms the rule of law and basic human rights,” Bishop Wester said.

Bishop Wester pointed to flaws in the framework that require revision, including a controversial provision that would permit same-sex couples to receive immigration benefits equal to married couples. He also pointed out that enforcement measures in the framework should not violate basic rights, and that policies that address the root causes of migration should be addressed.

He urged Congress to begin discussions on the issue, with the goal of passing legislation in 2010.

“We call for a robust but civil debate. This issue can no longer wait and should not be politicized or held hostage to ideology. Our immigration system is badly broken and is in need of immediate repair,” Bishop Wester said.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have consistently spoken out on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform and have urged its enactment.

Close to home, the debate has heated up with the announcement April 29 by Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones that he will lead efforts to have a “citizens initiative” on immigration reform placed on the Ohio ballot. He expressed a desire to “mirror” the bill passed in Arizona last month that criminalizes the act of being in the state without immigration documentation. Under current federal law, this is a civil violation. The Arizona law also requires police officers to arrest those they suspect of being in the country illegally and permits lawsuits against individuals or agencies who people think are not enforcing the law.

“It would be horrifying to see what is happening in Arizona repeated here in Ohio,” said Tony Stieritz, director of Catholic Social Action for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

He referred to the visit to local immigrants made last month by Bishop Eduardo  Carmona Ortega of Mexico, noting, “He commented a number of times on how he was distressed by the fear that’s in their hearts, fear of local law enforcement, fear of harassment, fear of deportation and having fewer options for survival back home.”

Stieritz said his office met with other police and sheriff departments locally, “and they share that same outlook. Laws like those in Arizona will only create greater amounts of fear and drive immigrants even more deeply underground.”

“A law like Arizona’s does nothing to promote human dignity, and it’s why so many church leaders have so resolutely spoken against it,” he added. “The real solution to this is on the federal level. We can only pray that such laws as those in Arizona will light a spark for Congress to actually do something to systematically reform our immigration system.”

See related story — Mexican bishop says episcopacy in his country and U.S. must work together

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