Citizenship path, family unity key to immigration reform

| August 27, 2013 | 0 Comments

The Catholic Spirit recently interviewed Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He will speak Sept. 4 at a discussion on faith and federal immigration reform hosted by Archbishop John Nienstedt at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis. The following is an edited version of the interview.

Q: Why is the issue of immigration reform a top priority for the U.S. bishops?
A: It’s important because we’re an immigrant Church; we’ve grown with the country. Immigrants who are coming here are Catholic, so there’s a pastoral dimension to the issue for the Church.

Appleby

Appleby

We’re a social service provider. We’re a health care provider. We have people in our parishes, all of whom are impacted by this immigration system. So, unless the bishops speak out and try to change the system, they’re not going to be able to help families who are separated, or children who have lost their parents, or a loved one who’s in detention.

Q: Would you say the bishops’ stance on the immigration issue isn’t anything new?
A: No, it’s not. The Church has been involved in immigration-related issues for decades, if not centuries. It’s not just a U.S. issue; this is global. The [U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’] initial reason for creating the conference was to respond to war refugees after World War I and that’s been maintained ever since as a pastoral area of the Church — to minister to people on the move. It’s nothing new. We have broad experience within the Church on receiving immigrants into the community. So, we have a lot to say on the issue.

Q: How do you see society and the Church benefiting from ethnic and cultural diversity?
A: I think we benefit greatly. We’re all a part of the family of God, and we’re all part of his creation. Whenever we get diverse views, types of worship, different languages, I think it’s only good. If we were all the same, it would get pretty boring after a while. There are also a lot of different talents that are brought to the Church when we receive immigrants. A diverse Church represents all of God’s children.

Q: When the bishops are talking about comprehensive immigration reform, what are the main points for which they’re advocating, particularly in terms of legislation?
A: Having a path to citizenship is of primary importance. I think bringing people out of the shadows, getting them on a regular status and having them work toward being full citizens is solid policy. It eliminates the underclass in society and gives them an opportunity to fully contribute to their communities.

We also believe in keeping families together — having a family reunification system that’s efficient and expedites family reunion and family relationships. We believe there should be a program that brings people in that want to work, giving them legal avenues to come in and work in a safe and orderly manner as opposed to the current situation where they rely on smugglers and traffickers, exposing themselves to those dangers to get here to work.

We believe that due process should be restored to the system, that people should have their day in court. Some of those rights were taken away in 1996.

Finally, we need some policies that look at why people are coming in the first place. What can we do to help address the issue at its core? Sustainable economic development is one issue to address. How can people stay where they are and support their families? That’s really the ultimate answer to irregular immigration.


Discussion to focus on faith, federal immigration reform

Archbishop John Nienstedt will host a discussion on faith and federal immigration reform from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sept. 4 at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, Schulze Grand Atrium, 1000 La Salle Ave., in Minneapolis.

Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Minnesota business leaders, clergy, Catholic immigrants and other “people in the pew” will discuss the U.S. bishops’ support for immigration reform and the important role people of faith play in this critical national debate. A question-and-answer period will follow the panel discussion.

The event is free and open to the public. RSVP to: info@mncc.org.


Q: It seems the issue of illegal immigration and having a path to legalization is one of the biggest points of contention for Congress and the public. How do you talk to people about this aspect of the issue?
A: We’re not going to be able to deport 11 million people. What we’re doing now is deporting some of these people, and one consequence of that is family separation — U.S. citizen children who are left behind or traumatized and lose faith in their country.

You’re never going to solve the problem that way. What you need to do is give [undocumented immigrants] an opportunity to earn their right to stay — have them pay a fine, have them pay a penalty, have them get in the back of a line, have them continue to work and help them learn English, things of that nature. That way, those who want to remain and really want to be citizens will work to get that.

I think it’s a good solution. I think it’s a fair solution, and I think it will help bring people out of the shadows and stabilize immigrant communities.

Q: Perhaps it was presumptuous to speculate that creating a path to legalization is the biggest point of contention in Congress. Is this, indeed, the biggest obstacle to passing comprehensive immigration reform in your opinion?
A: I think you can say the axis around which the debate turns is the path to citizenship. It brings out a lot of emotions. I think the hardest issue for legislators is what to do with the 11 million and do it in a way that doesn’t undermine the rule of law and doesn’t penalize people who play by the rules, but also reflects our values of compassion and forgiveness and allowing people a second chance. For the U.S., I think we’ll benefit by and large from those who are allowed to come out of the shadows and fully contribute and have their kids be part of the future, being future citizens.

I can understand why folks have a hard time getting over the rule-of-law issue, but, ideally, [an immigration reform] bill will correct that so in the future we’ll have a system based on legal behavior and not illegal behavior. There’ll be enough visas for people to access so they can come legally, within limits of course, and don’t have to rely on other means. What we have now is an incongruent system. We have a “Don’t Enter-Keep Out” sign at the border, but we have a “Work-Help Wanted” at the workplace, and people are coming to the “Help Wanted” sign and ignoring the trespassing sign.

Q: What are some other immigration-related issues at play in this debate?
A: The issue that’s underreported is the cultural fear. People think, “Our way of life is going to be changed. We’re going to be a different country.”

Q: Maybe that’s felt in many cases on the parish level as well?
A: The Latino community is growing larger than any other [immigrant] community. So you’re starting to see more Hispanics in all sorts of roles in our society and in our parishes — even parishes that may be in traditional white, suburban areas. By and large, Catholics are very welcoming people. All the polls show that they are strongly supportive of this, that they welcome new immigrants but they also want them to integrate. They want them to learn English. They want them to learn civics, so I think the path to citizenship really responds to that desire: “Come join our country. Come join our parish. But you have to play by all the rules we’re playing by.”

Q: What are one or two practical things that Catholics in the pew can do, whether it’s specifically related to legislation in Congress or about the immigration issue in general?
A: The first thing they should do is contact their legislators. Whoever their representative is, either call them in Washington or call them at their local district office and say, “We want this done. We want immigration reform with a path to citizenship, and we’ll support you if you work for that.” They can either call them, or they could go on our website — justiceforimmigrants.org — and there are postcards there they can send electronically.

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