Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bishops' Conference Immigration Expert discusses Current Church Involvement in Immigration

Out of the Shadows: A Call for Reform

By Kevin Appleby

The U.S. Catholic bishops have been very involved in the national immigration debate, having called for reform of our nation's immigration laws, including a controversial proposal that would provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented.
Some Catholics have questioned out loud the bishop's involvement in the issue, suggesting that the church should remain neutral in such an emotionally charged debate. If one looks at the history of the U.S. Catholic Church, however, it is understandable that the church hierarchy sees it not only as a justice issue but as important to the future of the American Catholic community.
More than any other organized religion in the United States, the Catholic Church is an immigrant church that has grown in lock step with the nation, welcoming successive generations of immigrants who have helped build our nation.
Indeed, the church and her institutions have welcomed and helped integrate into American life Irish and Italian immigrants who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th century; Central and Eastern Europeans who fled Europe after the Second World War; and Latin American and Asian populations more recently. To borrow a phrase from a toy store, immigrants are us.
During each successive wave, the church and the bishops defended the rights of newly arrived immigrants, arguing, in contrast to nativist organizations, that immigrants by and large added to the strength of our country by bringing to our shores unique skills, perspectives, and traditions. These new arrivals, the bishops claimed, enriched our culture and way of life. Given the success of our country as a global superpower, they were right.
The same debates are playing out today, as immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa -- the majority Catholic -- are becoming part of American society. And once again, the Catholic Church stands in the forefront of defending their basic rights and dignity.
Critics of the position of the bishops state that the church only wants more Catholics in the pews and that speaking in favor of immigrants is, in fact, a way to ensure that the new arrivals join and contribute to the local parish.
What they do not know is that immigrants are already here, drawn to the United States by the magnet of jobs and the opportunity to earn ten times more in a day than in their native lands. What also is not mentioned is that undocumented immigrants, who work in important industries such as agriculture and service, want to migrate legally but that there are insufficient -- only 5,000 -- permanent visas in the system for unskilled workers.
Immigrants are present in Catholic social service programs, hospitals, schools, and parishes, and each day a priest or employee is approached by an immigrant asking for help for a loved one -- a parent who has been detained, a child who has been involuntarily left behind by two deported parents, or a distraught family member who has lost a loved one in the desert.
Without changing the law governing immigration, often priests, employees, or the bishops themselves cannot help them or help keep their families together.
How does the outcome of the immigration debate, therefore, impact the future of the American church as well as the nation?
Close to 5 million U.S. citizen children live in "mixed-status" households, where one or more parents are undocumented. Another 700,000 minors are without legal status, having been brought to the United States by their parents when they were small children.
In many ways, they are the future leaders of our communities, parishes, and nation, but they constantly live in fear of the knock at the door, where they and/or their parents will be taken away at a moment's notice. Instead of developing their talents and building their confidence in this country, we are alienating them and squandering their potential. In many ways, we are shaking their faith in God.
As pastors, the bishops and priests are charged with ensuring that all Catholics and those of good will are given the opportunity to know God and to be with Him. It is also an obligation of all Catholics. This important responsibility is not dependent upon where a person was born and what legal status he or she may have or not have. Advocating for immigration reform is yet another way for the Catholic clergy, joined by the Catholic faithful, to fulfill that responsibility.
Just as past waves of Catholic immigrants have arrived to enrich, build, and help lead our church and nation, so will this generation, provided we give them the opportunity to reach their God-given potential. Reforming our immigration system and bringing them and their families out of the shadows will help set them, and us, on the right course.

Kevin Appleby has been the director of Migration and Refugee Policy for Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for the past eight years. Kevin has testified before Congress on immigration issues and represented the U.S. Catholic bishops on these issues at public events and with the media. He is a member of the board of the National Immigration Forum and the social policy committee of Catholic Charities USA.

Q & A: Kevin Appleby of the USCCB

By Michael Sean Winters
Created Jul 19, 2010

This week, we are discussing immigration reform. Our first interviewee is Kevin Appleby, the Director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs at the USCCB.

The question: What needs to be done to get immigration reform passed, and what are the prospects for passage?

Kevin Appleby:

Among the many issues confounding lawmakers and eluding bipartisan
support on Capitol Hill these days is immigration, perhaps one of the
most controversial topics in the country. Our elected officials in
Washington have avoided it like an unwelcome neighbor knocking at the
front door. Problem is, the knocks keep getting louder and louder.
The latest flashpoint in the debate is the recently passed Arizona law
SB 1070, state legislation which, among other provisions, under certain
conditions permits law enforcement to inquire as to an individual's
legal status. Whatever one thinks about the substance of the law, it
certainly has re-ignited the national debate and, most particularly, has
highlighted congressional dithering on fixing the nation's broken
immigration system.

For several years now, the U.S. Catholic bishops have advocated for
comprehensive reform of our nation's immigration laws, citing the
devastating impacts current laws have on immigrant families and
children. Close to 5 million U.S. citizen children live with either
one or two parents without legal status, leaving immigrant families
vulnerable to separation. In fact, the federal government has forcibly
separated thousands of these families in recent years through workplace
raids and other enforcement actions, deporting parents away from their

The bishops, along with other faith groups, have argued that the 11
million persons in the country illegally should have a chance to pay
their debt to society through a fine and back taxes, begin learning
English, and get in the back of the line for a green card and eventual
citizenship. This would ensure that family unity is protected, as
undocumented family members would receive legal status and not face

Opponents of the path to citizenship proposal cite the rule of law,
stating that any "reward" of legal status would be condoning illegal
behavior. What they fail to acknowledge is that immigrants who enter
illegally, drawn by the attraction of jobs, would enter legally if visas
were available to them.

Currently, only 5,000 permanent visas are available for unskilled
workers, while, before the recession, the economy absorbed close to
500,000 migrant workers per year into such industries as agriculture,
service, and construction. It is time to examine all parts of our
immigration system and reform it to match the future labor needs of our

Moreover, more of the same -- increased expenditures on border
enforcement---will not solve the challenge of illegal immigration. The
U.S. government has spent close to $100 billion on immigration
enforcement since the year 2000, but the number of undocumented has
increased and the debate rages on. Tragically, during this time nearly
5,000 migrants, including women and children, have died in the American

Another approach is clearly needed. By creating legal avenues for
migrant workers to enter and work, based on economic needs and by the
unemployment rate among Americans, law enforcement could focus upon
criminal elements along our border, not on those simply attempting to
find work or join family members.

As Congress continues to avoid this issue, the situation worsens.
Families continue to be divided, migrants continue to be exploited in
the workplace and die in the desert, and laws like SB 1070 continue to
erode the hard earned trust that now exists between immigrant
communities and law enforcement. Without federal action, states and
communities may continue to pass their own laws, creating a patchwork
across the nation which would not serve the country*s long-term

There should be a legislative window in the next year for Congress to
consider immigration reform, either later this year or early in the next
Congress. They will not act, however, unless they are moved to by their

To help move Congress to action this year, please visit the Justice for
Immigrants website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at, and send a postcard to your Senator and

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