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Central American migrants enter the United States from Mexico Central American migrants enter the United States from Mexico 

US Bishops call for 'humane and comprehensive' immigration reform

US bishops renew their call for a “humane and comprehensive” immigration reform that respects the rule of law, addresses the root causes of migration, and simultaneously protects those forced to migrate.

By Lisa Zengarini

The call was made on June 15 by Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, on the occasion of the ninth anniversary of the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). 

The scheme was put in place by the Obama Administration in 2012 to protect so-called "Dreamers" - migrants who entered the US illegally as children with their parents - from deportation by providing them with temporary permits for work and study, although it does not provide legal status, nor does it create a pathway to citizenship.

3.6 million Dreamers 

There are over 600,000 active DACA recipients currently living in the United States and as many as 3.6 million Dreamers total, about 1.8 million of which are DACA-eligible.

A broken immigration system

Reminding that DACA recipients make important contributions to their communities and the life of the nation and many of them have offered essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop Dorsonville noted that “far too often” these young people face “uncertainty and rejection” at the hands of a “broken immigration system”.

He further remarked that although the Biden Administration has identified immigration reform as a priority, Congress hasn’t yet acted: “Dreamers — together with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure holders, migrant agricultural workers, and undocumented essential workers — deserve relief”, the Bishop insisted. 

God-given dignity of every human person

“As a Church, we recognize the inherent, God-given dignity of every human person, regardless of immigration status. Therefore, we will continue to call for comprehensive immigration reform that preserves family unity, honours due process, respects the rule of law, recognizes the contributions of foreign-born workers, defends the vulnerable, and addresses the root causes of migration, consistent with the common good,” the statement concluded.

The “American Dream and Promise Act" 

This position was reiterated in a written testimony submitted by the prelate for a hearing held the same day by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the “American Dream and Promise Act" of 2021, a bi-partisan effort aimed at granting millions of young undocumented immigrants — many of whom are college students — legal status and place them on a pathway to citizenship.

Church advocacy for immigrants based on the Gospel

The testimony reminds that the Catholic bishops of the United States have long supported legislative relief for Dreamers, as well as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED).

It points out that the Church’s work assisting and advocating on behalf of migrants and refugees, “stems from the core Christian belief that every person is created in God’s image and must be valued” and recalls that throughout his pontificate Pope Francis has spoken extensively on the issue of migration and the Universal Church’s commitment to an “ever wider ‘we’”.

Need for permanent legal protection

On behalf of the USCCB, Bishop Dorsonville therefore urges the US Congress to give special attention to Dreamers in the reform process and ensure that they all have permanent legal protection that includes an expedited path to citizenship.

A solution for Dreamers “is both the moral and common-sense path”, the prelate notes.

TPS and DED holders

According to the US bishops, it is equally important to provide a path to citizenship also for TPS and DED holders. TPS is a temporary status afforded by the US authorities to citizens from some designated countries affected by armed conflict or natural disaster, allowing them to live and work in the United States, while DED is a benefit authorized at the discretion of the President that allows certain individuals to live and work in the US.

Protection for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers

Furthermore the USCCB maintains that the new legislation should preserve existing protections for unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, “as these protections help prevent trafficking and abuse, as well as ensure access to adequate care and due process”, the testimony remarks.

The bishops also ask the Congress to ensure that any solution for Dreamers and TPS/DED recipients, at a minimum, maintain existing avenues for family-based and diversity-based immigration.

Eliminating or reducing these avenues, they say, would be inconsistent with the values of American society “and encourage irregular flows of migration by people desperate to be reunited with close family members from whom they have been separated.”

Work toward humane and just solutions

Finally, the Bishop encourages all members of Congress “to work toward humane and just solutions” for this issue.

“As always, the Catholic Church stands ready to work with you in achieving these goals and will continue to stand in solidarity with our migrant brothers and sisters,” he concludes.

16 June 2021, 20:17