On March 27, the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate sent an immigration reform bill for consideration to the entire Senate. This bill is clearly a marked improvement over previous legislative efforts that were more concerned about punishing immigrants than addressing the reality of the current situation. This move to a better bill is clearly the result of the many friars, partners in ministry, the larger church and especially the immigrant community voicing a strong sentiment for human rights and justice. I have been fielding calls and e-mails from friars and partners in ministry who want information on how to contact their senators. This is a good moment and there is great momentum for some just immigration reform. However there is more that needs to be done to keep this moving.
Here are some next steps:
- Continue to contact your senators; encourage them to support this bill that came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee (there is no bill number yet; I will let you know when). To find your Senators contact information, you can go to www.senate.gov.
- Last week, information was e-mailed to each friar and was inHNP Today inviting each ministry to preach on immigration reform this coming Sunday, April 2. This will still be key to do. There is a great deal of anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S.; we need to do all we can to uphold the humanity of all people, regardless of immigration status.
- If your ministry is involved in these or other efforts for immigration reform, please let HNP Today and the JPIC Office know. We need to share the various ways that we are engaging in this important work.
What to look forward to in the process of this legislation:
- The bill passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee will be debated on the Senate floor for about the next two weeks. It is imperative that we keep contacting them in support of just immigration reform. Many amendments could be added that too make this good bill a bad one.
- If the bill passes the entire Senate, it will go to a Conference Committee where the House of Representative legislation and the Senate legislation are worked together to make a single piece of legislation. This is when there will be big struggle between the anti-immigrant forces and those wanting reasonable and responsible reform. (The JPIC Office will keep you informed of this progress.)
- If a viable bill comes out of the Conference Committee, it will go back to the House and the Senate. This is when again we will have to get our Senators and Representatives to know our wishes. (The bill coming out of Conference will determine our wishes.)
Stay tuned to HNP Today for more information as this process progresses. This is an historic time, and we in our ministries and the Catholic Church are a key voice for justice. I thank all of you who have already taken action and encourage you and everyone to continue to join in this historic struggle. It truly helps us live the best of our Franciscan Heritage as we embrace the lepers of our days.
Clearly, immigrants are being vilified and marginalized by many in our nation. Our embrace as ministers and advocates is key to keeping our Tradition a living one.
This following is a summary of key points on the bill that just passed the Senate Judiciary Committee as compiled by Cecilia Cardesa-Lusardi, Executive Director of Voice Without Borders at our Franciscan ministries in Wilmington, Del., and a member of the HNP JPIC Directorate:
The bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 27 contains the following:
- It passed the Judiciary Committee with a bipartisan coalition support for the Kennedy-McCain Bill;
- The proposed bill significantly lowers proposed criminal penalties on immigrants without proper immigrant status in the U.S. and those who offer humanitarian assistance;
- Allows undocumented immigrants who were in the United States before 2004 to continuing working legally for six years, if they pay a $1,000 fine and clear a criminal background check. They would become eligible for permanent residence upon paying another $1,000 fine, any back taxes and having learned English.
- New immigrants would have to have temporary work visas. They also could earn legal permanent residence after six years.
- Adds up to 14,000 new Border Patrol agents by 2011 to the current force of 11,300 agents.
- Authorizes a “virtual wall” of unmanned vehicles, cameras and sensors to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border.
- Creates a special guest worker program for an estimated 1.5 million immigrant farm workers, who can also earn legal permanent residency.
- Allows undocumented immigrant students with high school diplomas or G.E.D., no criminal record and meet other criteria to enroll in college or university or enlist in the military. Permits state schools to charge such students in-state tuition.