Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The nation's Catholic bishops, led by Bishop John Wester of the Salt Lake Diocese, called Wednesday for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year and for Americans to be more tolerant of both legal and illegal immigrants.
"The American public, including the Catholic and other faith communities, do want a humane and comprehensive solution to the problems with our immigration system. And they do want Congress to address this issue, and to address it now. We are doing all that we can to make sure that this happens," Bishop Wester said.
He is the chairman of the Committee on Migration of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, and he spoke in a conference call to national reporters Wednesday, with other Catholic leaders. He said it was part of the church's observance of National Migration Week "to recognize the importance of all newcomers — immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers — to our communities here in the United States."
Bishop Wester called for comprehensive reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants now in America. He also advocated allowing migrants to come to work legally in the United States, providing due process protections for immigrants and addressing the root causes abroad of what makes people feel compelled to migrate.
Bishop Wester said about the comprehensive approach, "We believe it is the most practical, humane and effective solution to the problem of illegal immigration to the United States."
He noted that Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., has introduced legislation addressing most of those concerns, and it is co-sponsored by 90 House members. He said similar legislation is expected in the Senate.
Bishop Wester said 1.5 million postcards have been distributed to congregations for interested Catholics to send to Congress to encourage reform, and a number of vigils and education projects are also under way.
"We will use all these tools to help influence our legislators in coming months," Bishop Wester said. "We remain committed to moving immigration reform as soon as possible."
Sister Mary Beth Hamm, justice coordinator for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Philadelphia, said the church has found that "you cannot hate the person whose story you know," and the church's close work with immigrants has led it to know their personal stories about why they feel compelled to immigrate, and why reform is needed. The church plans to share many of them.
For example, Sister Rita Mary Harwood, secretary for parish life and development of the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, said she had talked to a man who told how he had crawled through a sewer pipe to sneak into the United States. She asked him why he would do such a thing.
"He said, 'Because my children were starving.' He didn't have to say anything more," she said.
Bishop Howard Hubbard, Bishop of Albany, N.Y., and chairman of the International Policy Committee of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, said that a key part of any reform is to improve conditions in other countries so people are not compelled to migrate.
"Migrants have a right not to migrate — in other words, to be able to find work in their home countries so they can support their families in dignity. Migration should be driven by choice, not by necessity," he said.
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