Comprehensive immigration reform, so needed, has remained elusive for years now.
The pattern of past debates is clear. Immediately, sides form and positions harden. Emotions flare and disagreements persist; gridlock sets in. Politicians lose their nerve, become cautious and step back. We have been there several times already since President Reagan signed a legalization bill in 1986.
Simple, easy answers fall short of addressing the complexities of the issues surrounding immigration reform. Formulating legislation that can guide the nation through the intricate maze of issues remains daunting and can become paralyzing.
When can we become sure the border is secure? What is a fair and reasonable way to allow migrants living in the shadows to attain legal status? How can we provide needed workers, including low skilled workers, with legal access to work while protecting their rights? How can we unite families long-separated from one another? What kind of benefits should immigrants receive? What should happen for undocumented immigrants who came to our country as children and have only known life in the United States?
Despite the challenges, despite the complexities, despite the controversy, and despite the failures of the past, the nation must act now. Now is the time for a bi-partisan solution that can repair a broken system. We cannot wait to put an end to the separation of families, the exploitation of workers, and the death of hundreds of human beings in the desert every year. This suffering must end.
The “gang of eight” senators, including two from our State of Arizona, have worked hard to craft a bill to move the nation forward. Their efforts give the nation a chance to address a long standing impasse. I commend their leadership and courage.
Surely some will shout that this proposal goes too far. It rewards those who violated the law. Others will demand that the draft leaves families divided, sets unreasonable conditions for a pathway to citizenship and expands Operation Streamline. So the discussion and debate begin again. In the effort at comprehensive immigration policy reform in 2007, angry, strident voices captured the moment and the legislation failed.
This time far more balanced voices need to speak up. No legislation is perfect but we cannot be stymied by expecting the perfect. The proposed legislation needs careful attention and modification which can occur through the engagement, the advocacy and the commitment of all to get involved in the debate.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has long called for comprehensive immigration policy reform since this is an issue that affects human dignity, impinges on our communities, and has a moral dimension that needs to be considered. The bishops will work to improve the legislation where needed, but in a constructive, not destructive, manner.
Now it is critical to communicate with legislators and to speak up about the legislation and how it can be amended to most effectively address the wide range of issues it seeks to resolve. We believe most Americans understand that our immigration system is broken. Here is our chance to fix it.
Most Rev. Gerald F. Kicanas
Bishop of Tucson
Most Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted
Bishop of Phoenix
Most Rev. James S. Wall
Bishop of Gallup
Most Rev. Eduardo A. Nevares
Auxiliary Bishop of Phoenix