WASHINGTON—Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, Vice-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, testified before Congress on the ethical imperative for reform of the U.S. immigration system. He spoke July 14, before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law.
Bishop Kicanas, whose diocese runs along the whole of the Arizona-Mexico border, said he witnesses every day “the human consequences of our broken immigration system,” adding that “[t]his is a situation which from a humanitarian and ethical stand point, needs to be addressed in a humane and comprehensive manner.”
Though often dismissed by analyses that highlight the economic, social or legal aspects, “immigration is ultimately a humanitarian issue, since it impacts the basic rights and dignity of millions of persons and their families. “As such it has moral implications,” he said. “We cannot accept the toil and taxes of immigrants without providing them the protection of law.”
Bishop Kicanas recognized the rule of law as a flashpoint in the debate.
“The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wholeheartedly agrees that the rule of law is paramount, and that those who break the law should be held accountable,” he said. “As our testimony points out, comprehensive immigration reform would honor the rule of law and help restore it by requiring 11 million undocumented to pay a fine, pay back taxes, learn English, and get in the back of the line. We believe this a proportionate penalty for the offense.”
He also said the bishops believe immigration reform will make the nation more secure, “freeing up time and resources to concentrate on those coming who intend to do us harm.” He praised both the enforcement and life-saving efforts of border patrol agents, but pointed out that decades of enforcement-only policies have not solved the border or the larger immigration problem.
Bishop Kicanas also addressed the issue of the passage of controversial Arizona SB 1070.
“It is my belief that the passage of this law reflects the frustration of Arizonans and the American public with Congress for not addressing the issue of immigration reform. The message is to break the partisan paralysis and act now,” he said.
The bishop’s oral testimony was accompanied by a more in-depth written testimony in which Bishop Kicanas summarized the U.S. bishops longstanding recommendations on immigration reform:
- Enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation that provides a legalization program (path to permanent residency) for undocumented workers in our nation; reforms the employment-based immigration system so that low-skilled workers can enter and work in a safe, legal, orderly, and humane manner; and reduces waiting times in the family preference system for families to be reunited.
- Examine the “push” factors of migration such as international economic policies and enact policies which encourage sustainable economic development, especially in sending communities;
- Enact in reform legislation the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2009 and the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM);
- Adopt immigration enforcement policies that ensures our nation’s borders are secure at the same time that the abuse and deaths of migrants are prevented and their basic human rights and dignity are protected;
- Include the necessary elements in any legislation to efficiently implement any new immigration program, including taking actions to prepare the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to implement any new program and to properly fund such implementation.
The testimony also listed the many perceived benefits of an earned legalization program and reform aspects that the Church finds problematic.
Keywords: Immigration, comprehensive immigration reform, Congress, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, Arizona, SB 1070
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