Why is it so difficult for our political leaders to arrive at legislative solutions and procedures for immigration reform that are compassionate, just and equitable?
Why is it that for many decades now we have been hopelessly saddled with policies that are chaotic, ineffectual and cruel?
Is it really so difficult to ensure the safety and security of our nation’s borders, and, at the same time, allow people from many different countries to come to the USA seeking freedom and a better life for themselves and their families?
In the 2003 pastoral statement “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) outlined principles for immigration reform. These principles remain largely ignored. Only in moments of crisis do we think seriously about this grave moral issue. Then, once the media spotlight has been removed, things return to being the same as before.
The principles outlined by the bishops can be summarized as follows:
- Ensure access to permanent legal status and a path to citizenship for current residents. Given the millions of hardworking, undocumented migrants already living in the United States — some for many years — legalization provisions are needed.
An estimated 10.5 million undocumented people live in the United States. The vast majority are honest, hardworking men, women and children who contribute to their communities and want to be recognized and accepted as fellow citizens. Surely, we can find safe, legal and dignified ways to make their dreams a reality.
- Any legislation should contain language that strengthens families and maintains the long-standing family unity emphasis in immigration law. Such family-focused policies include: (1) measures that establish legal pathways and waivers that enable families to maintain unity or restore it for those families already torn apart, (2) removal of the three- and 10-year bars to lawful immigration, (3) utilize prior unused family-based immigration visas, and (4) mechanisms that will clear current backlogs and ensure timely family reunification.
If we truly believe that the family is the fundamental unit of society, whatever we can do to ensure that the families of migrants are united and protected will strengthen our nation and promote true peace with justice.
- Immigration reform legislation should eliminate the use of detention as a method of deterrence, end the use of for-profit corporations in immigration detention, reserve detention only for individuals who are national security or public safety threats, expand community-based alternatives to detention (ATDs) which ensure immigration compliance in a humane way, and include other reforms that will protect vulnerable migrants and their families.
Detention is never a desirable solution, but when it is absolutely necessary, it should be as humane and dignified as possible.
- Evaluate and revise immigration enforcement strategies, both along the U.S.-Mexico border and within the interior, to ensure the just and humane treatment of all migrants. Border management should reflect broader U.S. economic and humanitarian interests and prioritize the wellbeing of local communities. This requires a prohibition on the use of military resources and personnel along the border, as well as the separation of local policing from interior enforcement.
Immigration laws must be enforced — justly, equitably and humanely. Failure to ensure the just and humane treatment of migrants leads to the chaos and degradation we are experiencing today.
- Immigration reform legislation should limit policies that place undue burdens on asylum and instead establish reasonable and achievable pathways to citizenship for refugees and asylum seekers. To facilitate this, universal access to pro bono legal programs must be supported.
When access to due process is denied — or made hopelessly complex and cumbersome — the system breaks down completely.
- Adopt policies that address the root causes of migration. Political and religious persecution, environmental degradation and economic underdevelopment and exclusion have long been factors driving people to leave their homelands. It is important to consider including policies that will mitigate factors that drive irregular immigration and promote interventions that will allow people to thrive in their homeland.
Our nation’s foreign policy must pay particular attention to the political, economic and social causes of migration. Although we can never totally eliminate people’s desires to make a new life away from their homeland, there is much we can do to promote genuine change in the way other countries treat their citizens.
As Pope Francis has repeatedly said, our concern should not be only about migration. It should be about “building the city of God and man” so that all our sisters and brothers can claim their rightful places in the household of God.
Member, Editorial Board of The Record