Mark Franken
Executive Director
Migration and Refugee Services, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
January 19, 2006

People of faith view public laws from a moral perspective.
  • Are the laws humane?

  • Do they serve the common good?

  • Do they uphold the God-given right of every member of society to human dignity and respect?

If laws do not conform to these principles, we believe we have a moral responsibility to work for change.

When the faith community looks at the current state of our immigration system and the effect that current laws have on immigrants and our society at large, we conclude they are woefully inadequate and in need of significant reform.

And, as is indicated by the participants on this panel who are looking at this question from a diverse range of perspectives, others who thoughtfully consider the status quo reach the same conclusion: our immigration system needs overhaul.

Now, what to do about it? What reforms are needed?

The starting point is to acknowledge all of the causes for the current state of affairs. If we are to truly fix the problems, we cannot take a narrow, one-dimensional approach.

  • What compels people to leave their homes, their loved ones, and that is dear to them? What are the push and pull factors involved in a persons decision to migrate?

  • What are our economys labor demands and available legal means to fill them?

  • How do we ensure that the institution of the family is a significant consideration in our immigration policies? How do we ensure family retention and timely reunification of separated families?

  • How can our immigration law enforcement policies reflect our humanitarian values as a nation, while effectively carrying out the critical task of identifying and preventing the entry terrorists and dangerous criminals?

An enforcement-only approach to solving the ills of our immigration system, such as was passed recently by the House of Representatives, is unnecessarily punitive, but also, will not address the problem.

We believe quite strongly that a comprehensive package of reforms will provide Americans with an immigration system that safeguards the homeland, restores the rule of law, and maintains our ideals as a nation of immigrants.

The components of such a comprehensive approach include:

  • Address root causes of migration that occurs out of necessity. Our nations trade, economic aid, debt relief, and other types of economic and social policies should help to create conditions in which people are not compelled to leave their homes.

  • Develop more responsive legal means to keep families intact, including the elimination of the long waits for family visas.

  • Create a workers program that allows legal avenues to match workers and jobs, and protects both U.S. and immigrant workers.

  • For those who are here in an unauthorized status and have been contributing members of their communities, give them an opportunity to earn the right to remain.

    Create border protection policies and employ enforcement strategies that are effective in preventing the entry of would-be terrorists and dangerous criminals, while upholding humanitarian values.

As the Senate turns its attention to immigration reform proposals, we hope that this more comprehensive and, ultimately, more effective approach to fixing the ills of our current immigration system, will be pursued. The McCain-Kennedy proposal provides a very good approach to immigration reforms.

In so doing, our elected officials will demonstrate the kind of leadership and moral courage needed to bring our immigration laws and policies into the 21st century and truly address the growing problems created by the current system.