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Bishop calls on Catholics to assist immigrants

CHURCH: The Inland diocese's leader speaks at a national meeting of U.S. bishops.
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
WASHINGTON - Catholic dioceses must do more to counter a growing anti-immigration sentiment and protect the human rights of foreign-born newcomers, the leader of the Inland region's Catholics told a national gathering of U.S. Catholic bishops Tuesday.
"The church's voice on behalf of immigrants is more critically needed than ever before," said Bishop Gerald R. Barnes, head of the Diocese of San Bernardino, who spoke at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' fall meeting in Washington, D.C. "We have an opportunity to better inform our people about the situation of immigrants and how our nation's laws need to be changed to reflect a more just approach to immigrants and immigration policy."
Barnes gave an update on the Justice for Immigrants campaign, the bishops' controversial program to push Congress and the White House into approving looser immigration policies that would legalize millions of undocumented workers and reunify families across the border.
Since the campaign's launch in May, fewer than 50 of the nation's 172 Roman Catholic dioceses have signed on to educate their parishioners about the need for immigration reform. Barnes said that in order for the effort to be successful, more dioceses must participate.
Dioceses across the country will soon receive parish-resource kits that include homily notes and immigration figures to be used to educate the nation's 67.3 million Catholics and the public about the contributions of immigrants and help Catholics generate political pressure for new immigration laws.
"For this important campaign of the church to be successful a conversion of hearts and minds resulting in Christian attitudes toward immigrants must be achieved," said Barnes, who chairs the conference's Migration Committee, which is spearheading the immigration effort.
Twenty Catholic-affiliated groups, including Catholic Charities USA and the Catholic Health Association, have joined the campaign, which calls for legalizing undocumented immigrants in the United States, creating a temporary-worker program, and streamlining the process for obtaining family-reunification visas, which now can take years.
But some criticize the program, saying undocumented immigrants undermine the quality of life in the United States by overloading roads, schools and hospitals. They question the church effort to change federal immigration policies.
"They are meddling in political and legislative matters and not just administering in their flock," said Andy Ramirez, of Chino, chairman of Friends of the Border Patrol. "This isn't an issue of morality. This is an issue of law enforcement."
Tim Donnelly, leader of the border-watch group Minutemen Corps of California, said the church would benefit from relaxed immigration laws given that a large number of immigrants are Latinos and Catholic. He argues that the campaign will encourage illegal immigration, putting immigrants in danger from unscrupulous smugglers and hazardous border crossings.
Support for immigrants, legal and undocumented, is nothing new for the Catholic Church, which says every person should be welcomed and that all people have the right to migrate to achieve a life worthy of human dignity. But convincing Congress and the White House is another matter, political experts have said.
Barnes has talked to lawmakers about the Catholic Church's stance on immigration, including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who has introduced a bill that would bolster border security and require illegal immigrants to return to their home countries before applying as temporary workers in the United States.
Barnes said he understands the fear that many have about securing U.S. borders. But legislation that adds Border Patrol agents and constructs more border fencing without adding a path to legalization or helping to strengthen the economies of the immigrants' home countries won't tackle the complicated dilemma of illegal immigration, he said.
"We have tripled our Border Patrol already and still people are coming across," Barnes said. "People will come when they're hungry . . . when they're trying to provide a better life for their families. They'll come no matter how high the wall will be."



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved