Bishops Renew Call for Immigration Reform

Action urged as President Obama reportedly prepares executive order.

Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle
Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle (photo: Archdiocese of Seattle)

BALTIMORE — In the wake of the midterm elections last week, the U.S. bishops urged Congress and President Barack Obama to work jointly on timely immigration reform that respects families and human dignity.

“We urge both parties to work together to finally reform this broken and immoral system,” said Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, addressing the U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 11.

He spoke about the need to address the “human tragedies” caused by the current immigration system. The bishops are not trying to “pick political sides,” he explained, but they have long worked in support of “humane immigration reform.”

The emergence of a Republican Senate after last week’s elections has raised serious doubts about any passage of comprehensive immigration reform in the next congressional term, with many Republicans saying they want the border secured first before other actions are taken, such as a potential path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.

President Obama, however, committed earlier in the year to moving unilaterally after the elections, if necessary. And despite the Democrats’ loss of Senate control, he is “looking forward to taking executive action on his own” on immigration, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

The New York Times reported that Obama had decided to implement a “broad overhaul” of the immigration enforcement that “will protect up to 5 million unauthorized immigrants from the threat of deportation and provide many of them with work permits, according to administration officials who have direct knowledge of the plan.”

Along with allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to remain and work legally, the plan also would “expand opportunities for legal immigrants who have high-tech skills, shift extra security resources to the nation’s southern border, revamp a controversial immigration enforcement program called Secure Communities, and provide clearer guidance to the agencies that enforce immigration laws about who should be a low priority for deportation, especially those with strong family ties and no serious criminal history,” The Times reported.

Republicans in Congress have warned against such unilateral action, saying it would damage the president’s relationship with incoming GOP lawmakers. In a closed-door meeting with his Republican colleagues, House Speaker John Boehner vowed that “if [Obama] proceeds, we are going to fight it,” The Washington Post reported.

According to the Post, the Republicans are considering a range of potential retaliatory options, including a possible block of all funds required to implement executive orders on immigration reform.

Bishop Elizondo, who heads the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration, acknowledged his approval of potential executive action “to protect certain individuals from deportation, especially to stop the separation of immigrant families.” However, he emphasized that, ultimately, the “broken and immoral” immigration system can only be reformed by the joint action of Congress and the president.

“Only Congress working with the executive branch can achieve that,” he insisted, and he pledged the support of the bishops “to help facilitate that process in the months ahead.”

“I think it is an urgent matter for the country, so I hope that they take it soon, the sooner the better,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles told CNA.


Pro-Life Issue

Archbishop Gomez made it clear that any pro-life platform must include respect for the dignity of the immigrant.

Asked whether immigration is connected to the pro-life position, he explained, “Obviously, the Church is very concerned about the culture of life. But life from conception until natural death. So all those issues are part of the dignity of the human person. So I think that’s obviously a connection, in the sense that we care about every single person.”

Overall, the two bishops made clear that their main objectives are keeping families united and protecting the dignity of all immigrants.

“I think the basic principles we would like to see are a path to citizenship, unity of families and also ending deportation,” stated Archbishop Gomez. He also noted the need to better understand “the movements of people in a global world.”

“Families are torn apart by enforcement actions,” Bishop Elizondo said. He stressed the goals of working to “promote family unity” and “provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”