Bishops have right approach

By | May 12, 2010

Many groups, however, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, do not support Arizona’s new law, which makes it a state crime for undocumented immigrants to be in the country and allows Arizona law enforcement officials to detain those suspected of being in the country illegally.

It’s not that the bishops (and others who minister to immigrants) believe our immigration laws should not be upheld. To say that state and federal laws should be broken to accommodate undocumented immigrants is absurd and too simplistic, much like a lot of the solutions that are tossed around when discussing the issue of illegal immigration.

So why do our bishops and most other religious leaders oppose Arizona’s new immigration law? First, they see the danger of trying to enforce a law based on one’s skin color or command of the English language. Such an approach can target law-abiding citizens and legal immigrants, not to mention attacking human dignity.

Secondly, our bishops know that resolving illegal immigration is much more complicated than having law enforcement officials detain anyone speaking Spanish or whose skin is brown.

Instead, they have long argued that U.S. laws need to address the root causes of illegal immigration. They argue that our archaic immigration system hinders people from seeking legal status.

Lack of jobs and low-paying jobs in Mexico and other Latin American countries force workers across the border. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which was enacted in 1994, has also intensified the economic disparity between the U.S. and Mexico.

Economic development in poorer countries is the most effective long-term solution to illegal immigration, noted Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, who serves as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration. “In the context of the current immigration debate, this is the church’s answer to a border wall, which will not prevent irregular migration over the long term.”

In a column for Our Sunday Visitor, Bishop Wester noted that current immigration laws allow for 5,000 permanent visas for unskilled laborers while up to 300,000 undocumented people “are absorbed into the U.S. workforce” each year.

To address the problem of employing illegal workers, Bishop Wester said immigration reform should “replace illegality with a system based on legal presence and legal entry, thus restoring the rule of law to a chaotic system while protecting the basic dignity, and lives, of our fellow brothers and sisters.”

A legal system would require people here illegally “to get on the right side of it by paying a fine, taxes, learning English and waiting in the back of a long line to have a chance to become a U.S. citizen,” wrote Bishop Wester.

The plan makes sense; for migrants, for employers and for law enforcement officials, who could spend their time tracking unlawful activity at our borders, like drug and human trafficking, rather than people seeking a living wage.

Ending illegal immigration won’t happen by detaining people who look or talk differently, no matter what the polls say. It’s up to us to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform and avoid getting caught in witch hunts.

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