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Pa. Bishops Call for Immigration Laws That Protect Migrants’ Human Dignity

The Church leaders said that while good people may disagree on the specifics of reform, certain principles must be followed.


| Posted 9/4/13 at 2:09 PM

Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World/Flickr

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Stating that the majority of undocumented immigrants have come to the United States seeking the opportunity to care for their families, the bishops of Pennsylvania have called for immigration reform that protects migrants’ basic human dignity.

“Millions of undocumented immigrants live in the United States today. Many left their home countries because of poverty and persecution. The overwhelming majority is hardworking and poses no threat to anyone,” the Pennsylvania bishops said in a joint statement Sept. 3. “Our Church is an immigrant Church, built by our ancestors who left difficult situations abroad to establish communities where they could work, support their families and be free to worship and live in accordance with their beliefs,” the bishops said. “Today’s immigrants seek the same opportunities.”

"The Pennsylvania bishops’ statement is one of the latest efforts of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ ongoing campaign to change American immigration law and get legal status for more than 11 million immigrants living and working illegally in the United States.

“The Church seeks fair and realistic immigration reform that upholds the God-given dignity of every human being,” the bishops said. They noted that the Church’s history of serving immigrants’ spiritual and social needs is based on the  “strong belief that immigrants deserve the same basic rights and freedoms owed to every child of God.”

The bishops, however, did acknowledge that legitimate disagreements exist about the specifics of reforming the immigration system, and they proposed several guidelines for a prudent means of reform.

The bishops advocated a “path to citizenship” for undocumented U.S. immigrants, saying any reform legislation should “preserve and strengthen family unity.” They said reforms must provide legal avenues for low-skilled immigrants to work in the U.S.; due process for those detained in the immigration system; and efforts to address the “root causes” of migration, such as poverty and persecution in migrants’ home countries.

The bishops acknowledged the right of a state to secure its borders and Americans’ concern for public safety, respect for law and the financial solvency of public institutions. However, they said these issues do not eclipse the need to fix “a broken immigration system that often fails to protect the basic dignity of immigrant men, women and children.”

They cited the words of Jesus from Matthew 25, “What you do for the least of my brethren, you do unto me,” in support of their position, adding that it is “clearly long past due” for the U.S. to fix its broken system of immigration law.

In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan-backed bill for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., as well as a new worker visa program and border security investment.

The message from the bishops of Pennsylvania comes as the Republican-controlled House returns to Washington and will consider the Senate bill or their own, more piecemeal approaches to immigration reform.

House GOP leaders have indicated they are unlikely to support the Senate’s bill, and they may focus on border security “triggers” ahead of giving legal status to undocumented migrants.