Immigration reform discussed in a civil tone
The U.S. Catholic bishops do not condone unlawful entry or
circumventions of our nation’s immigration laws. The bishops believe
that reforms are necessary in order for our nation’s immigration system
to respond to the realities of separated families and labor demands that
compel people to immigrate to the United States, whether in an
authorized or unauthorized fashion.
Our nation’s economy
demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this
demand. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent
residents face interminable separations, sometimes of 20 years or
longer, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and
policies need to be updated to reflect these realities.
U.S. bishops’ Justice for Immigrants website
The national debate over immigration reform has been divisive, with little room for agreement or compromise.
A conference at St. Louis University May 21 sought to explore solutions to questions regarding human rights, immigration and peaceful co-existence. It included a range of perspectives and an exchange of views in a reasoned, civil tone.
Among those discussing laws and international boundaries were Gene McNary, former commissioner of the
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Kenneth Schmitt, an immigration attorney and founder and principal of U.S. Legal Solutions. They held opposing views on the need for reform. McNary, former St. Louis County executive, said he believes the immigration policy in the United States has been fair, especially compared to countries suchas Denmark. Besides those who are given permanent residency status and others who are given visas, the U.S. has taken in refugees in large numbers, he said. He noted that the St. Louis area has approximately 70,000 Bosnians who have resettled here.
“Our refugee program has been outstanding. People have dedicated their lives to helping them. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves. We’ve done a lot,” McNary said.
He cited the national interest in bringing in skilled labor and in providing diversity. But, he said, “we are a nation of laws. Is it too much to ask that people come here through the front door? If they come in across the border and are not in the country with a visa, they overload certain areas.”
Schmitt, a board member of Catholic Charities Community Services, agreed that “we have done wonderful things in the past in being open to immigrants.”
Regarding the strict immigration laws in other countries, he said, “we need to ensure that we measure up to our principles, not how much we measure up to other countries.”
He said that as an attorney, he too believes in laws, but the country should strive for good laws. He explained the immigration process, the strict limits it provides and the struggles and delays people have in applying. “You end up with very, very substantial delays. You could end up with a 17-year wait to bring in somebody the country already says you can bring in.”
Discretion has been taken away from judges in immigration hearings, he said, which he believes has been a mistake.
The conference was sponsored by the Marchetti Endowment Fund at SLU, named for the late Jesuit Father Jerome J. Marchetti. It is supported through contributions from the salaries of Jesuits who teach and minister at SLU and seeks to advance the Jesuit and Catholic character of the university.
On May 18, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the topic of immigration in speaking to a group of U.S. bishops visiting the pope and Vatican offices:
"The Catholic community in the United States continues, with great generosity, to welcome waves of new immigrants, to provide them with pastoral care and charitable assistance, and to support ways of regularizing their situation, especially with regard to the unification of families. A particular sign of this is the long-standing commitment of the American Bishops to immigration reform. This is clearly a difficult and complex issue from the civil and political, as well as the social and economic, but above all from the human point of view. It is thus of profound concern to the Church, since it involves ensuring the just treatment and the defense of the human dignity of immigrants."
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