WASHINGTON — Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles applauded the introduction of legislation to change the U.S. immigration system, while pledging the bishops’ help in reviewing and improving the proposal.
“The U.S. bishops look forward to carefully examining the legislation and working with Congress to fashion a final bill that respects the basic human rights and dignity of newcomers to our land — migrants, refugees and other vulnerable populations,” he said April 17.
Archbishop Gomez, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, refrained from commenting on specific details of the bill — which is more than 800 pages in length — until the U.S. bishops’ conference can thoroughly analyze it.
However, he commended the sponsors of the Senate bill for their “leadership and courage” in working to address the immigration system in the United States.
On April 17, an immigration-reform bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators who have been working to strike a deal between those who want to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and those who want to focus on securing the U.S. border.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, known as S. 744, is being sponsored by U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Dick Durbin D-Ill., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
If the legislation is passed, it will offer a 13-year path to citizenship to immigrants who are already in the country illegally. These immigrants will be required to pass background checks, be fingerprinted, pay fines and taxes and prove gainful employment.
The bill would also institute other changes, including a wider pool of visas for migrant workers.
However, no undocumented immigrants can apply for temporary status until certain border security “triggers” are in place.
The bill has drawn initial criticism both from those who thought the waiting period for undocumented immigrants was too harsh and those who argued it was unfair to offer citizenship under any circumstances to immigrants who entered the country illegally.
However, it also drew praise from those who view it as a realistic compromise that can help alleviate problems that have plagued the U.S. immigration system for years.
Archbishop Gomez applauded the legislation as an effort toward comprehensive immigration reform, which the bishops have long encouraged.
He said the bishops will work “constructively” with the senators and other Congress members to improve the proposal if needed, emphasizing that the goal is an immigration system “that restores the rule of law in a humane and just manner.”
The archbishop pointed to the principles laid out in the USCCB's 2003 pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”
That letter listed several goals for immigration reform, such as a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants that includes “the maximum number of persons” and acts “within a reasonable time frame.”
In addition, the bishops have repeatedly backed a family-based immigration system that protects vulnerable groups and unifies spouses and their children.
They have also endorsed a program to help low-skilled migrant workers to enter and work in the U.S. legally, as well as the restoration of due-process protections for immigrants and policy changes to address the deeper causes of immigration.