Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



The Bishop Writes

Urgency for immigration reform


by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Feb. 4, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

The untenable situation of the undocumented in our nation has lasted far too long, and Congress must take action and pass legislative action that will provide comprehensive immigration reform. In a 2005 pastoral letter, Strangers and Guests No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, the Catholic Bishops of the United States and Mexico acknowledged that the current immigration system is badly in need of reform and that we need a comprehensive set of recommendations for changing the U.S. law and policies to bring about a more humane and just immigration system in this country.

We have just celebrated National Migration Week, which reminds us to address this issue. But what makes this situation especially critical and real is what happened in Brewster, Wash., just a couple of weeks ago.

Several hundred people working for a large fruit company were given termination orders because their documentation papers evidently were not in order. For a small town like Brewster, this is devastating, and I suspect most of those involved were members of Sacred Heart Parish. Some of the workers have been employed by the same company for over 10 years.

This is not a unique situation in our country. The latest estimated figure of the number of undocumented in the U.S. is about 12 million.

We must not blame the employer or the staff of USCIS (La Migra). Because employment is available and, very often, because of the urgency of harvesting certain crops like cherries and apples, large number of workers are needed. Who else would fill those jobs if they didn’t?

The bishops’ 2005 pastoral letter endorsed these themes: global anti-poverty efforts; expanded opportunities to reunify families; a temporary worker program, broad-based legislation, and restoration of due process. Why is the Catholic Church concerned about these issues?

As Church, we have a longstanding and rich social teaching rooted in Scripture. We Catholics have had the experience of being an immigrant church. Therefore, we feel compelled as Church to raise our voices on behalf of those who are marginalized and whose human rights, given by God, are not respected. We believe present immigration policies have undermined the dignity of immigrants and have kept families apart. Because of a presently defective system, unfortunately, there is a growing number of persons who are here without proper documentation. They live in fear of getting caught working jobs that otherwise would go unfilled. In the process, undocumented immigrants live in fragile and sometimes dangerous situations.

As Church, we have the special responsibility to shine light on this sad situation and advocate for a more just and humane approach. The dignity of the human person is paramount in our concern, while recognizing the need for our country to protect her borders and deal with this complex reality in a fair and just manner. There seems once again in our country a movement to address the need for change. The United States Conference of Bishops (USCCB) has embarked upon “The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform.” We need to pray and work hard for its success.

In the meantime, we must also address some of the false myths circulating about immigrants. There are at least six, taken from the USCCB website: www.usccb.org/fji/myths.html.

• Immigrants don’t want to learn English. The situation today mirrors the patterns of the 19th and early 20th centuries. While there may be many first-generation immigrants who have a lower proficiency in English, 91 percent of second-generation and 97 percent of third-generation immigrants speak English fluently or near fluently.

• Immigrants don’t pay taxes. Between one-half and three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay state and federal taxes. They also contribute to Medicare and provide as much as $7 billion a year to the Social Security Fund.

• Immigrants increase the crime rate. Recent research has demonstrated that immigrant communities do not increase the crime rate and that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist, has found that first-generation immigrants are 45 percent less likely to commit violent crimes that Americanized, third-generation immigrants.

• Immigrants take jobs away from Americans. A recent study from the Pew Hispanic Center indicates that “Rapid increases in the foreign-born population at the state level are not associated with negative effects on the employment of native-born workers.”

• Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy. In fact, the immigrant community proves to be an economic net benefit. The American Farm Bureau says that without guest workers, the U.S. economy would lose as much as $9 billion a year in agricultural productions and 20 percent of the production would go overseas. (By the way, a recent UCLA study has stated “that legalization, along with a program that allows for future immigration based on the labor market, would create jobs, increase wages, and generate more tax revenue. Comprehensive immigration reform would add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years.” {January 7, 2010 LA Times article on the UCLA study}).

• Undocumented immigrants are a burden on the health care system. At the local, state and federal levels, the cost of health care for undocumented migrants is about $ 1.1 billion, compared to $88 billion for non-elderly adults in 2000. In addition, foreign born individuals tend to use fewer health care services.

There is a great sense of urgency in addressing this issue. May our nation have the will and resolve to so so quickly, fairly, justly, and compassionately. I ask you to pray for that intention.

Blessings and peace.


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