the issues related to Immigration Reform Legislation
Action on Behalf of Immigrants
Summer ’07 Action on Behalf of Immigrants
In June, the US Senate will finalize an immigration bill. In
June and July, the US House will develop and hopefully pass its
own immigration bill, and then the two houses will try to reconcile
each into a final bill to present to the president before the summer
recess in August.
It appears that the leadership of both parties and the president
want some sort of immigration bill passed before the electoral
campaign season so they don’t have to deal with it while
The US House will probably approve a bill less compassionate to
immigrants than the US Senate. Consequently, our action
this June and July on behalf of justice for immigrants is critical. We
all should encourage our people thru preaching to contact their
US representatives to pass a just law.
The principal parts of the legislation yet to be finalized
are the following:
- A Path to Citizenship: This means legalization
for the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants living in
the US. Opponents refer to this process as “amnesty.” Certain
restrictions may apply, such as payment of application fees and
back taxes, no criminal history, English and civics proficiency,
etc. Some want to delay the implementation of legalization until
all border security measures are completed.
US bishops support a path to citizenship
for the following reasons:
- Impractical to try to deny 12 million and send them back
to their countries.
- Most have been here many years and contributed with their
labor and taxes to US.
- To send many back would unjustly divide families.
Concerns about this part which the bishops would like
to see changed:
- Cost of $5000 for penalty for having been here illegally
is exorbitant. After adding cost of application for new visa,
many will be unable to apply and will remain undocumented.
- Date by which immigrants must have been here, currently
Jan 1, 07 is generally considered as generous.
- “Touch back” – at least 1 (probably head
of household) or more applicants in a family must briefly
leave US at some future date to officially receive legal
residency – excepting single months, disabled, elderly,
and children. Some want every individual to leave country
in order to formalize application and be accepted, which
would be an impossible burden for many and an enormous bottleneck
at US consulates at US borders, e.g., Juarez and Toronto.
- To determine who among the millions is processed first,
an elaborate merit-point system (favored by Pres Bush) based
on education, length of time in US, other skills instead
of first come first served is to be developed. This will
complicate system and discriminate against less educated
workers and favor skills over family. Furthermore,
the point system will be used and limit the opportunities
for future applications of persons living outside the US
who seek entry through sponsorship of legal family members.
- Limit of legal residency visas to be distributed per country
each year must be greatly expanded or applicants’ waiting
time (backlog) for approval may be extended for more than
- Undocumented with legal family members here should be treated
first in order to promote family unity and should be not
included in per-country limit of visas.
- Requiring enhanced border security before processing any
undocumented persons will postpone the solution the bill
intends: legalizing millions of people.
- Institution of an electronic employment verification system
will turn employers into law enforcement officials and the
system will probably be counterfeited.
- Unfortunately some want to increase the restriction of
a criminal record from a felony to minor offenses.
- Under one proposal, a “Z” visa would be created
for undocumented persons and allow them to apply for permanent
residency within 8 years. Unfortunately, it would not
allow immediate family members to join the eligible worker
until a green card application is approved, a minimum of
eight years. It also requires the visa holder to return
to his/her country of origin to apply for a green card, the “touch-back”.
- Guest worker program: Promoted heavily by
Pres Bush and opponents of immigration. Employers and unions
both dislike it. It grants workers a temporary
visa (now proposed for 2 years including
payment of a substantial amount), after which workers must leave
US and stay out of US for 1 year before reapplying. If
accepted they can return, again for a limited time (now 2 years)
after paying another fee, after which they must leave again and
stay out for 1 year. They can do this once again for 2
years and then must leave and never return. US bishops
want them also to have the option of a path to citizenship and
enjoy protections against employer exploitation.
Recently in the US Senate the number of annual guest
worker visas planned for was reduced from 400,000
to 200,000 because most recognize the havoc such a program
will create. Guest workers would have a special ID.
Concerns about this plan
- Impractical because workers would have to change residence
every year or two and never find permanent work or residence.
- Employers do not want to invest in training only to have them
leave in 2 years.
- Workers would likely be exploited as not protected by labor
laws and unable to join unions, though some propose such protections,
which history has proven very necessary.
- Guest workers should be allowed to move (portability of visa,
i.e., not tied to a specific employer) and to leave country and
return if need be.
- Many guest workers would probably not leave but just stay as
- Secure borders to make it more difficult for
new undocumented immigrants to get in.
- Most proposals include
- additional border patrol and enhanced border detection
- extension of the fence.
- additional detention space
- a “fool-proof” ID for documented workers
- enhanced and better enforced sanctions on employers for
hiring undocumented workers
- jail time for persons caught entering US illegally. Now
they are just deported.
Concerns about this plan
- Impractical because immigrants will simply find a way around
fences and security which will be more dangerous and life
- Will turn our borders into armed or militarized zones
- Will greatly increase cost of detention facilities in US
- There is no ID which is fool proof
- Employers will become law enforcement officers
- Some propose limited or no judicial review for the detained
thus curtailing a basic civil right against a police state.
In general, the US bishops support a generous path
to citizenship for all who come and work in the
US. They want a curtailed guest or temporary
worker program because of its impracticality
and injustice to workers. They support provisions
that will strengthen family unity and limit the militarization
of the border.