The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wasn’t taking a new stand Thursday in its letter to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner about the need for immigration policy reform.
The letter was signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. Dolan also wrote a commentary for The Wall Street Journal last month saying that “more than 150 Catholic immigration programs across the nation assist immigrants in becoming Americans.”
The Catholic Church, Dolan told readers of the Wall Street Journal, “has long been in the vanguard of this effort to integrate immigrants – surging in the 19th century with waves of Italian, Polish and Irish newcomers.”
But with the number of House legislative days left in the year dwindling and uncertain prospects of that body following the Senate’s lead or taking any other concrete steps on immigration reform, the letter from the bishops adopted a pressing tone.
It complained of “little action from our federally elected officials” on a problem “that has confounded our nation for years.” “It is a matter of great moral urgency that cannot wait any longer for action,” the letter said.
The bishops aren’t the only ones sounding the alarm. Last week, 600 faith and business leaders from across the nation descended on the offices of House members for an event called “Americans for Reform.” The group included Bill Hammond, the outspoken president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. Hammond long has made it clear that his association sees immigration reform as an economic imperative for Texas.
“Our current immigration policy is broken and serves no one,” Hammond wrote in a commentary published Monday in the Austin American-Statesman. He called for “a comprehensive plan that will secure the border and expand legal immigration to meet the needs of businesses.”
Hammond said the U.S. must secure its border, but “simply loading it up with more Border Patrol officers” ignores crucial parts of the immigration solution. In the past, he also has argued against the view that allowing more legal immigrants will take away jobs from citizens. Many Texans hold jobs in hospitality, construction and agriculture, he has said, but the demand is greater than supply and the only way to meet it is with legal immigrants.
“We also must allow enough legal immigration to meet the needs of employers,” he wrote in the American-Statesman. “Concentrating (enforcement efforts) on people who are simply looking for a way to feed their families takes away valuable resources from fighting serious violent crimes.”
In a survey conducted in May, the Pew Research Center found that 75 percent of Americans believe immigration policy needs major reform or should be “completely rebuilt.”
Seventy-one percent believe the 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay if they meet certain requirements.
Topping the list of popular requirements is showing they can speak and understand English, with 76 percent of Americans in favor. Paying fines is approved by 56 percent and a 10-year wait period gets a 55 percent positive response.
The Pew survey shows 44 percent of Americans believe illegal immigrants already living in the U.S. should be allowed to apply for citizenship, while 25 percent say they should be permitted only to apply for permanent residency. The key difference is that citizens can vote.
Catholic bishops, in their letter to Boehner, reiterated a call for “a fair and achievable path to citizenship.”
They focused on “upholding the human rights and dignity of the person” and extending legal protections for immigrants.
With a stern pastoral tone, the bishops told the speaker that “keeping these human beings as a permanent underclass of workers who are unable to assert their rights or enjoy the fruits of their labor is a stain on the soul of the nation.”
Boehner should heed what the bishops and others have said and bring immigration reform forward.
And the House should act.
Mike Norman is editorial director of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.