Immigration reform, rather than harsh enforcement bills. That's the message from the Catholic Bishop of Tuscan, Arizona, Gerald Kicanas.
In his testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security, on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, Bishop Kicanas put forward his opposition to three enforcement-only bills.
Kicanas stated: "Collectively, the bills are detrimental to immigrant and refugee children, they criminalize unregistered immigrants and those providing them with basic need assistance, such as religious and church workers. They also give states permission to draft and implement their own immigration laws."
Steering the US in the wrong direction
The Bishop was adamant that the three bills would 'steer the US in the wrong direction' without addressing the root problems with the country's immigration system.
He compelled the subcommittee to instead, to agree comprehensive immigration reform legislation, with a route to citizenship.
Addressing the Chairman of the Committee, Kincanas stated: "The USCCB firmly believes that these bills will not remedy the flaws in our immigration system, in fact they will have the opposite effect, undermining our country's moral authority on a domestic and global scale."
Weaken protection for immigrant children
Bishop Kincanas highlighted multiple provisions in the three bills, "would weaken protections for abandoned, neglected, and abused children". In particular he pointed out that the proposed repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) scheme, would affect about 600,000 children.
The proposed repeal of protections for unaccompanied immigrant children fleeing violence in Central America, would force them to return to dangerous situations. They would not even be given an opportunity of appealing a decision to return them home at an immigration hearing.
In an impassioned plea, he said: "Our nation is judged by its treatment of those who are truly vulnerable. Removing protections from children – across the DACA scheme and those in need of refuge – goes against human decency and violates human dignity."
Secure and Fortify Enforcement Act
The Bishop then turned his attention to the Secure and Fortify Enforcement Act (SAFE), saying that the removal of protections begins a process of criminalising undocumented individuals and those who help them.
Making reference to similar actions in a 2006 bill, which led to mass protests across the US, the Bishop asked: "Is this a road and journey we want to take our country on again? Should we be criminalising the millions of people that have established equities here, imprisoning them and tearing families apart?"
USCCB ready to help
The Bishop concluded his address saying: "Mr Chairman, the USCCB, along with various other faith communities and a host of Americans are disappointed that decisive immigration reform legislation was not sanction in the 113th Congress.
You now have the chance to remedy that by fixing our immigration system in the 114th Congress. We, the USCCB, stand prepared to help you achieve this goal."
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