Rights for immigrant farmworkers, support for prisoners being released back into society, and Catholic social teaching in the public arena have been selected as the diocesan Public Policy Committee’s three priorities for 2009-10.
Support of farmworkers will be the committee’s advocacy issue and the focus of a petition-signing effort in diocesan parishes on Public Policy Weekend, set for Feb. 13-14, 2010. The committee is calling for comprehensive immigration reform, based on its contention that Latin American farmworkers face strong anti-immigrant sentiment from the general public and law-enforcement officials, and that they are not covered by the labor laws that protect other workers in this country. A Public Policy Committee statement released July 22 notes that “farmworkers make significant contributions to the well-being and wealth of New York state, and should be afforded the same rights, protections and benefits that other workers receive.”
Continuing for a second year as an educational priority for the PPC is “Prodigal Sons and Daughters: Returning Home from Incarceration.” This priority highlights the need for all to aid in reintegrating prisoners into the community upon their release. The committee observed that more than 700,000 inmates will be released in the United States this year. Although the majority of them will be rearrested within three years, the committee asserted that the recidivism rate can be greatly reduced if the community offers services, referrals and social support. The committee added that people being released from prison have “little money, often no place to live, a poor employment and educational history, and few positive social connections.”
The third priority for the Public Policy Committee, also slated as an educational issue, will be formulation of three workshops to raise awareness of the cultural and political environment in which laws that violate Catholic social teaching have been passed. A particular focus will be on laws that violate the dignity of human life regardless of age or functioning level, as well as laws that threaten the institutions of marriage and family. The workshops will examine how media influence shapes public opinion on these issues; how conscience is formed and should be protected; and how Catholics can assert themselves in the secular world to influence public-policy issues. Workshops will take place in various parts of the diocese during the next year.
In a letter to diocesan Catholics, Bishop Matthew H. Clark noted that the three 2009-10 public-policy priorities “touch on matters that impact humans who cannot speak up for themselves.” The bishop remarked that “the immigrants who come to our diocese to work on our farms often lack legal status, so they remain in the shadows of our communities. When I celebrate Mass each Christmas at the Monroe County Jail, I am moved by the faith of men and woman who hold onto God’s love despite painful life stories and disastrous choices that have resulted in imprisonment. Their successful return to family and community requires significant support. Finally, how we respond to the unborn and to all the challenges that children and families face will depend on how well we’ve formed our consciences.”
In addition to the three priorities for 2009-10, the Public Policy Committee is continuing efforts on issues related to its priorities in recent years. These include children at risk; ethical stem-cell research; access to health care; global climate change; affordable housing; and peace-building.