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US Bishops Respond to Latest Effort
Proposed immigration bill stirs calls for prayer and justice

Bishop BarnesWASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishops in various parts of the country joined the chorus of reactions to the preliminary version of a comprehensive immigration bill set to be considered before the Senate takes a weeklong break for Memorial Day.

Debate in the Senate opened May 21 even before the legislation designed by a bipartisan negotiating team was turned into bill form and introduced. A vote on the bill could be taken as soon as May 24, or debate could extend into June.

Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., chairman of the bishops' Committee on Migration, said in a May 17 statement that the important considerations for the bill include that it "is workable and includes family unity and a fair and realistic path to citizenship, a new worker program which provides participants a meaningful opportunity to obtain permanent residency, and the preservation of family unity as an integral part of the U.S. immigration system."

Leaders of Catholic Charities USA said they would also push for a bill that "sustains and reunites families, promotes the security of the nation ... (and) improves the economic prospects, health, labor protections and stability of all U.S. residents, including newcomers," among other criteria.

Catholic Charities joined the USCCB in saying the compromise bill is a good starting point, albeit not the optimal approach.

"As the compromise is currently written, we are very concerned about provisions that could lead to separating families and disrupting family life," said a statement from Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.

In several places the church also planned prayer activities for "a just and equitable immigration reform bill," as the Justice for Immigrants campaign described their effort.

The senators who are considering immigration reform "need our prayers," said a statement from Sister Jane Burke, a School Sister of Notre Dame who heads the U.S. bishops' Justice for Immigrants campaign. "Our voices are essential to the passage of this crucial legislation. There are many ways to raise our voices but two in particular are called for at this moment -- advocacy and prayer."

She asked people across the country to join a "Million Prayers Initiative" between May 20 and 26, the week before Pentecost.

Information about the campaign, including a special prayer, can be found at the Web site

The campaign spells out five principles for immigration reform:

-- To make family a priority in immigration law.

-- To insist that worker programs contain protection for U.S. citizen and migrant workers.

-- To allow for earned legalization for undocumented immigrants.

-- To restore due process protections for immigrants.

-- To respond to the economic, political and social root causes of immigration.

In California, parishes and religious communities in East Los Angeles held a Mass May 16 at Resurrection Church to pray for legislators "who will guide the destinies of millions of hardworking immigrants and their families, hoping that just and humane comprehensive immigration reform legislation will be passed this year."

Seattle Archbishop Alex J. Brunett was to celebrate a Mass for immigrants May 26 at St. Mary Church in Seattle.

"The news of an agreement to resolve the impasse on immigration reform is welcome," said Archbishop Brunett in a May 18 statement. "But the real test of the plan will be its protection of basic rights."

Archbishop Brunett also sent priests a set of guidelines for assisting immigrants, particularly those who lack legal immigration status.

The guidelines advise parishes to help undocumented immigrants in a variety of ways, including providing bail to people facing deportation in order to reunite families; aiding family members separated by deportation; or otherwise assisting people dealing with the immigration legal system.

"We support the enforcement of our laws," Archbishop Brunett said. "But while we do not support illegal immigration, the Archdiocese of Seattle has a long-standing tradition of outreach to immigrants and refugees. It is integral to our faith and teaching that we provide food, shelter and material assistance to those in need."

"...We are very concerned about provisions that could lead to separating families and disrupting family life," said a statement from Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.

Read Today's NewsWire on Immigration Issues.

Make a Bad Bill Better
(an editorial)
Read a critique of the Immigration bill from the New York Times

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