Comprehensive reform needed on federal level
By Brigid Curtis Ayer
INDIANAPOLIS — Church officials breathed a sigh of relief as a state proposal aimed at cracking down on undocumented immigrants failed to pass the Indiana General Assembly this year.
“We were very concerned about the harmful affects the undocumented alien bill, Senate Bill 213, would have had on countless families and children had it passed,” said Glenn Tebbe, Indiana Catholic Conference executive director. “Church leaders in Indiana and nationally want immigration reform, but it needs to be comprehensive and addressed at the federal level. Senate Bill 213, which focused on enforcement, would have only made the problem worse rather than addressing the root of the problem — a broken federal immigration system.”
Tebbe said, “Immigration reform must include a reasonable, legal pathway for the undocumented, many of whom have gone through all the legal steps in applying for citizenship visas, but who have had to wait years or in some cases nearly decades to get.”
How long does it take to become a U.S. citizen? The answer all depends on the applicants’ country of origin, the preference category of the applicant. Family-sponsored Mexican immigrants who applied in Oct. 1, 1992 qualifying in the first preference category will be granted a visa this month — an 18-year wait. Family-sponsored immigrants applying from China or India only have to wait six years. Employer-sponsored immigrants applying for visas sometimes have a quicker route to citizenship, but even professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree and who are currently employed with a U.S. company must wait eight years before they can get their permanent visas.
These visa wait-time examples can be found in the March 2010 Visa Bulletin published by the United States Department of State which highlights the visa backlog issue. This is only one of many obstacles the undocumented face in their attempt to become legal citizens.
“People have begun to see the need for comprehensive immigration reform not because of eloquent words, but because they have met someone who had no hope of changing their immigration status,” said Benedictine Sister Karen Durliat, director of Guadalupe Center in Huntingburg, a ministry of the Diocese of Evansville serving the Hispanic community. “It’s easy to demonize someone as a lawbreaker until you meet them face to face and hear their story. It only seems to be at that point that we can reflect on our inability to ‘throw the first stone’ because I dare to say that we have all broken a civil law sometime in our life (be it driving too fast or going through a red light that was not operating correctly). And, we probably broke the law with less impelling reasons than the causes that have driven immigrants to cross deserts and rivers as a last chance for their families to survive.
“Immigration laws have been broken for so long that we are now punishing children of those who chose to break a law, or perhaps were defrauded when they thought they were paying for valid visas,” said Sister Durliat. “Children of parents who chose to come to the United States to give their children a better life are now stuck between countries. They don’t know their country of origin, perhaps not even the language. Yet, they are graduating from schools without the hope of obtaining a driver’s license or getting a job,” said Sister Durliat.
“We need laws that will enable immigrants without documents to come forward and pay a fine for what they have done. Then, they and their children can work legally, obtain a driver’s license, go on to universities and contribute to the country that has become their home,” said Sister Durliat. “They will be able to find employment with just wages. They will be able to live without the constant fear of the possible deportation.”
Immigration attorney Angela Adams, an associate at Lewis-Kappes Indianapolis law firm, has been actively lobbying in opposition to state-level immigration reform. “We need realistic, long-term solutions at the federal level,” said Adams. “State lawmakers should not be involved itself in comprehensive immigration reform just for the reason they are frustrated with the federal government’s failure to act.” She explains that part of the problem with immigration law as is “the law itself prevents people from doing the right thing.”
Adams said changes in immigration law, which address a solution to the problem, would include: 1) eliminating the visa backlogs; 2) improving enforcement at the border; 3) allowing immigrants with qualifying family members or job offers, to pay a fine for immigration violations, and grant them a visa; 4) updating outdated visa quota systems; and 5) allowing shorter visa wait times for highly skilled, professional workers.
In January, the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops launched an immigration reform Web site called Justice for Immigrants to educate and rally support for reform. For details on the bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign go to www.justiceforimmigrants.org.
Indiana Catholic Conference www.indianacc.org
Legislative Action Center www.indianacc.org click “Legislative Action Center”
Join the Indiana Catholic Action Network (I-CAN) at www.indianacc.org click “Join I-CAN Network”
Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States. www.faithfulcitizenship.org
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