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August 4 - 17, 2013

Reforming immigration laws

Cardinal Francis George, OMI

For several decades, our country failed to enforce its own laws. Farm workers and others regularly crossed back and forth across our borders as they were needed. As their families and children became woven into the fabric of civil life here, their numbers increased to the eleven million undocumented people whose illegal status keeps them in the shadows of public life. They are both here and not here; and that is the tragedy, for them and for us.

Every Sunday morning, tens of thousands of friends and neighbors in pews of many churches across Illinois and the country pray in Spanish, Polish, English and languages from across the globe that they will not be torn from their brothers and sisters, wives and husbands and children.

Social policy that systematically destroys families makes no sense when illegal immigration has been at net zero for nearly five years in the United States. And yet, every day, eleven hundred individuals who pray, work and live with us are seized from their communities and families and deported. The number of deportations and the disruption of family life they cause have steadily increased under the present administration.

There is good reason to hope. In June, a truly bipartisan effort in the Senate produced sound legislation that, if passed, would bless our nation with a far more humane system. It includes a tough, but fair, path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Hope wanes when the leadership in the House of Representatives reject this legislation without releasing a plan themselves that would lead to just, humane and timely immigration reform. House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team have said they will not allow a vote on any legislation that does not have the support of a majority of Republican house members. This makes political sense, but it sacrifices the common good of society to party unity.

The Senate legislation has the backing of an unprecedented coalition of religious, business, labor, community and immigrant organizations. I hope that Speaker Boehner and the House leadership can find a path to address this human tragedy fairly, either by taking up the Senate bill for a vote in the House or releasing their own comprehensive legislation that includes an earned path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants who are illegally here but who are a part of our common life.