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BY WAYNE LAUGESENRegister Correspondent
WASHINGTON— The Center for Immigration Studies doesn’t
mince words when discussing the support American bishops give to immigrants.
“It seems downright immoral,” said John Keeley, a
practicing Catholic and director of communications at the Center for
Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy organization that
wants to eliminate illegal immigration and greatly reduce legal immigration.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed strong
opposition Dec. 14 to the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal
Immigration Control Act — a measure designed to curb illegal immigration,
including a border wall. The House of Representatives passed the measure Dec.
16 in a 239-182 vote. The Senate will take up the legislation in the coming
With the bill about to be introduced in the House, the
bishops came out with a statement Nov. 16, during their regular fall meeting in
Washington. They called on dioceses to work harder at countering growing
anti-immigration sentiment and to protect the human rights of foreign-born
“The Church’s voice on behalf of immigrants is more
critically needed than ever before,” Bishop Gerald Barnes, who chairs the
bishops’ Committee on Migration, said at the conference. “We have an
opportunity to better inform our people about the situation of immigrants and
how our nation’s laws need to be changed to reflect a more just approach to
immigrants and immigration policy.”
The Committee on Migration last May launched the Justice
for Immigrants Campaign, which asked U.S. bishops to find ways to support
immigrants who live and worship in their dioceses. The campaign has asked each
bishop to appoint a coordinator to oversee immigration support programs and to
interface with the national campaign. About 50 coordinators have been
“There’s a growing anti-immigrant sentiment in this
country, even among some Catholics who themselves trace their roots to the
immigrant experience,” Bishop Barnes said.
Case in point: Fernando Peña of Denver. Peña immigrated
legally to the United States decades ago and became a citizen. A Catholic, Peña
wants illegal immigrants deported.
“We left California because it has been essentially
destroyed by illegal immigrants,” Peña said. “Now we are seeing the same thing
in Colorado. Why? Because illegal Mexicans are moving in.”
Bishop Barnes told his fellow bishops that aiding
immigrants in an increasingly hostile environment requires the culture to
develop values of compassion and love of fellow humans.
“We must have more dioceses involved. The Church’s voice,
on behalf of immigrants, is more critically needed than ever before,” the
bishop told the conference.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said the Committee
on Migration is considering a proposal that would ask bishops to support a
legalization bill, which would facilitate illegal immigrants in gaining legal
status and ultimately citizenship.
“Many of these people are our parishioners and they need
our assistance,” DiMarzio said.
DiMarzio, a member of the Committee on Migration, said
that he doesn’t care about the likely negative political ramifications the
Church might face by supporting illegal immigrants in a society that’s growing
“We’re coming out for human beings who are in this
country already,” DiMarzio said. “These are essential workers. They don’t live
in parks and tents. They are integrated into our society. As a nation, it’s
hypocrisy of the first degree to render them as second-class citizens while
benefiting from their labor. We are not for undocumented immigration. We
believe it’s bad for the country and bad for the individual. We believe
immigration laws should reflect reality, and right now it’s a flawed system.
Keeley said it would be more compassionate for bishops to
support deportation of illegal immigrants because the presence of illegal
immigrants hurts “the working poor” who live and work in the United States
“There is an array of indicators suggesting that our
current immigration policy does a great job of importing cheap labor, and
growing the ranks of the uninsured and poor in this country,” Keeley said.
“That doesn’t seem a recipe for social and economic cohesion.”
In opposing the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and
Illegal Immigration Control Act, the bishops said they are most concerned about
provisions that would:
Expand expedited removal of illegal immigrants;
Mandate detention of immigrants attempting to enter the United States
Make it more difficult for long-term undocumented residents to obtain
citizenship, and even restrict their ability to apply for citizenship and
Make “unlawful presence” in the United States a crime rather than a civil
One element of the bill that Bishop Barnes said he is
particularly concerned about would apply criminal penalties to people who give
assistance to illegal immigrants, including those working with Church
“The legislation would place parish, diocesan, and social
service program staff at risk of criminal prosecution simply for performing
their job,” Bishop Barnes said.
The proposed legislation provides for penalties for human
Keeley said the bill represents a responsible effort to
protect Americans and the American way of life from the dangers and economic
threats posed by “runaway” immigration.
“A sizable segment of contemporary immigrants come from
Latin and Central America, which are overwhelmingly Catholic,” Keeley said. “To
the bishops, these are constituents coming across the border. It means more
Bishop DiMarzio said Catholic bishops are concerned with
the welfare of all human beings, Catholic or otherwise.
Wayne Laugesen writes
from Boulder, Colorado.