Nearly 50 priests, parish leaders, and diocesan staff gathered in Elizabethtown at St. James Parish for the first of two advocacy training session centered on discussions of the comprehensive immigration reform legislation moving through Congress.
Patti Gutierrez, of the Owensboro diocese, reviewed the church’s powerful teaching regarding migrants and how we are called to welcome them. She also engaged participants in discussions of specific cases to give everyone a sense of how difficult it really is to enter the country lawfully. The case studies helped enhance participants’ understanding of the complexity of the immigration system and why reform is so desperately needed.
CCK associate director, Jason Hall, then described the principles the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops uses to decide whether or not the various provisions in the legislation is in accord with Catholic teaching.
The Church has consistently called for the legislation to include a path to citizenship and S. 744, the current proposal, does include this and we are supporting that measure. It does not currently provide for all those whom it could and CCK and USCCB will press for amendments to include additional immigrants.
Family unity, keeping families together, is another important element of reform. The bill does increase the number of visas which will be available for family reunification and we will watch to ensure this provision is not weakened by opponents.
The bishops are calling for the “restoration of due process,” which was weakened in legislation in the mid-’90s. Several provisions of S. 744 accomplish this and call for more humane treatment of persons who are detained and caught up in deportation proceedings. The bill gives judges greater discretion to make decisions about deporting persons and allows for the appointment of lawyers for vulnerable persons who could face torture and death were they returned to their home countries.
Vulnerable populations deserve greater protection. This would include a rising number of children who arrive in the U. S. without parents or other adults. It could also be persons who are victims of human trafficking, as well as others. The legislation does call for visas for victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and others. It enable the President to designate certain particularly vulnerable populations such as children who have grown up in refugee camps. Other provisions – new “W” visas for low-skilled workers, a new temporary worker program, the ability of the Secretary of Agriculture to adjust visa availability based on labor demand – all meet the criteria applied by the church for support.
One area left out of this reform measure still needs to be addressed, here or in other legislation. As part of the church’s teaching on migration is to try and address the “Root Causes of Migration.” What prompts the need for people to migrate from their own nation? Are there push factors such as poverty or violence with the nation’s borders that need to be studied and addressed? S. 744 does not look at the root causes nor attempt any meaningful study, analysis, or pilot programs to tackle these issues. The U. S. bishops will work with Catholic Relief Services and others to ensure Congress takes up the issue in some fashion.
In the afternoon participants spent nearly two hours discussing strategies and actions to take back in the parishes and agencies where they live and work. Many excellent ideas flowed from this effort and were share verbally near the end of the day. Future posts and action alerts will take up some of these as they are implemented.
Readers of this post are encouraged to attend to next advocacy training at Pax Christi parish in Lexington on Thursday, May 23. Registration is required and you can link to the registration form from our home page.
Also, please take a moment to contact members of the U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee and urge them to approve amendments that improve the bill reflect the above criteria. Click here to TAKE ACTION now.
Photo: Pat Delahanty