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From the Southern Border to Capitol Hill, Bishops Push for Quick Action on Immigration

Pilot Media George Martell

Steve Weatherbe - published on 06/06/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Pressure ramping up on House to close deal before August.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are firmly backing immigration reform, and statements issued after a recent Mass on Capitol Hill indicate they are putting pressure on Republicans in the House of Representatives. The bishops hope the Republican-controlled House approves immigration reform measures of their own or those passed by the Democrat-dominated Senate a year ago—and soon. 

Conventional wisdom holds that after August, chances of substantive measures securing passage sharply dwindle.

At a stagey event in early April near Nogales, Arizona, 13 bishops from three countries concelebrated Mass for several hundred people on both sides of the international border. Eucharistic hosts were distributed between the iron slats of a rusty security fence. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley quoted Pope Francis to good effect, “We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters…We have fallen into…the culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people.”

Then, on May 29, six bishops celebrated a second Mass at St. Peter’s church in Washington. It was “offered for immigrants and their families who are being subjected to separation because of our broken immigration system,” the bishops said. 

In a homily, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami outlined the three planks of a just immigration platform: 

  • provision of “an earned path” for 11 million illegal aliens to become citizens;
  • a “future flow” plan to allow Mexican workers into the U.S. on a temporary, legal basis that protects their human rights to fair wages and decent conditions;
  • provision for timely family reunification.

Archbishop Wenski has served as chairman of CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.) (1998-2001), of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Committee on Migration (2001-2004); and of the conference’s Committee on International Policy (2004-2008). He continues as a consultant to the Committee on Migration and for CLINIC.

The USCCB’s web page makes it clear the Masses are intended to rally voters and members of the House behind immigration reform. 

According to Kevin Appleby, the USCCB’s director of migration policy, previous obstacle to full Catholic support—changes to federal regulations that would enable reunification of same sex couples—was removed when the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year. 

The bishops are also maneuvering behind the scenes, according to Stephen Schneck, director of  the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, to get the White House to hold off on unilateral deregulation, in order to give pro-immigration reform House Republicans a chance to rally support behind one of several bills being considered.

“The administration is considering a revamping of Secure Communities, which is the program that has been criticized by immigrant rights groups as over-zealous in deportations – but which many GOP lawmakers like," Schneck said. “So the bishops urged the White House to hold off on its revamp.”

Appleby says the defeat of several Tea Party candidates by mainstream Republicans in recent primaries “can’t hurt” chances for the passage of significant immigration reforms. 

“Give me a week,” he said, to be able to call the outcome of the House deliberations more confidently. That will allow the primaries to conclude, and if the momentum continues away from the “radical” faction, it will strengthen Republican House Leader John Boehner’s hand. 

Boehner wants immigration reform, says Appleby. “The question is: does he have the courage?” A moderating swing among Republicans could give him that courage. 

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