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Know the issues related to Immigration Reform Legislation

Summer ’07 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 campaigning.

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:

  1. 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:

    1. Impractical to try to deny 12 million and send them back to their countries.
    2. Most have been here many years and contributed with their labor and taxes to US.
    3. 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 20 years.  
      • 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”.
  1. 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 undocumented.
  1. Secure borders to make it more difficult for new undocumented immigrants to get in.   
      • Most proposals include
        • additional border patrol and enhanced border detection systems,
        • 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 threatening.
      • 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.


What do US Bishops Think?

Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles outlines the critical moral issues of Immigration Reform

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