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Q & A: Kevin Appleby of the USCCB

This week, we are discussing immigration reform. Our first interviewee is Kevin Appleby, the Director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs at the USCCB.
The question: What needs to be done to get immigration reform passed, and what are the prospects for passage?
Kevin Appleby:
Among the many issues confounding lawmakers and eluding bipartisan
support on Capitol Hill these days is immigration, perhaps one of the
most controversial topics in the country. Our elected officials in
Washington have avoided it like an unwelcome neighbor knocking at the
front door. Problem is, the knocks keep getting louder and louder.

The latest flashpoint in the debate is the recently passed Arizona law
SB 1070, state legislation which, among other provisions, under certain
conditions permits law enforcement to inquire as to an individual's
legal status. Whatever one thinks about the substance of the law, it
certainly has re-ignited the national debate and, most particularly, has
highlighted congressional dithering on fixing the nation's broken
immigration system.

For several years now, the U.S. Catholic bishops have advocated for
comprehensive reform of our nation's immigration laws, citing the
devastating impacts current laws have on immigrant families and
children. Close to 5 million U.S. citizen children live with either
one or two parents without legal status, leaving immigrant families
vulnerable to separation. In fact, the federal government has forcibly
separated thousands of these families in recent years through workplace
raids and other enforcement actions, deporting parents away from their
children.

The bishops, along with other faith groups, have argued that the 11
million persons in the country illegally should have a chance to pay
their debt to society through a fine and back taxes, begin learning
English, and get in the back of the line for a green card and eventual
citizenship. This would ensure that family unity is protected, as
undocumented family members would receive legal status and not face
deportation.

Opponents of the path to citizenship proposal cite the rule of law,
stating that any "reward" of legal status would be condoning illegal
behavior. What they fail to acknowledge is that immigrants who enter
illegally, drawn by the attraction of jobs, would enter legally if visas
were available to them.

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Currently, only 5,000 permanent visas are available for unskilled
workers, while, before the recession, the economy absorbed close to
500,000 migrant workers per year into such industries as agriculture,
service, and construction. It is time to examine all parts of our
immigration system and reform it to match the future labor needs of our
country

Moreover, more of the same -- increased expenditures on border
enforcement---will not solve the challenge of illegal immigration. The
U.S. government has spent close to $100 billion on immigration
enforcement since the year 2000, but the number of undocumented has
increased and the debate rages on. Tragically, during this time nearly
5,000 migrants, including women and children, have died in the American
desert.

Another approach is clearly needed. By creating legal avenues for
migrant workers to enter and work, based on economic needs and by the
unemployment rate among Americans, law enforcement could focus upon
criminal elements along our border, not on those simply attempting to
find work or join family members.

As Congress continues to avoid this issue, the situation worsens.
Families continue to be divided, migrants continue to be exploited in
the workplace and die in the desert, and laws like SB 1070 continue to
erode the hard earned trust that now exists between immigrant
communities and law enforcement. Without federal action, states and
communities may continue to pass their own laws, creating a patchwork
across the nation which would not serve the country*s long-term
interests.

There should be a legislative window in the next year for Congress to
consider immigration reform, either later this year or early in the next
Congress. They will not act, however, unless they are moved to by their
constituents.

To help move Congress to action this year, please visit the Justice for
Immigrants website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at
justiceforimmigrants.org, and send a postcard to your Senator and
Representatives.

Tomorrow's interviewee: Jennifer Butler, Executive Director of Faith in Public Life

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July 18-31, 2014

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