GATES — As it considers immigration reform, the United States must not resort to draconian measures that harshly penalize undocumented immigrants, Bishop Matthew H. Clark said April 5.
During a press conference at the diocesan Pastoral Center, Bishop Clark noted that while he does not condone illegal immigration, he and his brother bishops also oppose proposed legislation that would harshly penalize people for entering the country illegally. Bishop Clark outlined five principles he said that he and his fellow bishops believe must be followed in immigration reform. A summary of the principles follows:
1. Reform must be comprehensive: The bishops oppose a bill — H.R. 4437 — that recently passed the House of Representatives. Among other provisions, this bill would criminalize the act of entering the country illegally. It also would criminalize the actions of anyone — including church workers — who offers humanitarian assistance to illegal aliens, knowing that they are in the country illegally, or who fails to ask if they’re here legally, according to Wally Ruehle, director of the Immigration Program at the Legal Aid Society in Rochester.
“We cannot take a narrow, restrictive, one-dimensional approach, as was contained in the House-passed measure,” the bishop said.
As of April 7, both houses of Congress were working on a compromise bill that would let millions of undocumented immigrants remain in the country, according to several reports. However, prospects for the bill’s passage seemed to be dimming as Congress prepared to recess for two weeks.
2. Reform must strengthen security but not slam shut the doors of our nation: “Just as we must be vigilant in security, we must never become overzealous … that we cease to say the words emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,'” the bishop said.
3. Reform must provide a pathway to residency and citizenship: Undocumented immigrants currently in the United States should be given the chance to stay and earn citizenship, as long as they are not criminals and do not pose a security threat.
4. Reform must provide for worker visas and protections: “There must be greater legal means by which needed workers can be admitted to fill available jobs,” the bishop said.
5. Reform must keep families intact: “We must end the visa backlogs that have long separated families,” the bishop said.
Copies of the bishop’s statement were provided to parishes throughout the Diocese of Rochester for distribution in bulletins. The bishop also asked Catholics to contact their senators and representatives to “ask for justice and fair reform.”
On a related note, an April 10 march in favor of “humane” immigration reform was scheduled to begin at the Federal Building in downtown Rochester and proceed to St. Michael’s Church on North Clinton Avenue, according to Sister of Mercy Janet Korn, social-justice awareness coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities.
For information on the U.S. bishops’ views on immigration reform, visit www.justiceforimmigrants.org.