Who are the sponsors and co-sponsors of the legislation?

The primary sponsors in the U.S. Senate are Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA).   Co-sponsors at the time of this writing are Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).

The primary sponsors in the House of Representatives are Representatives Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).   The co-sponsors in the House are Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Rep. Ray LaHood (D-IL), Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA),  Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA),  Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Rep. James T. Walsh (R-NY).

S. 1033 and H.R. 2330 are identical companion bills in the Senate and the House.

How does the legislation comport with the principles for immigration reform outlined by the U.S. bishops?

In the pastoral statement, Strangers No Longer:  Together on the Journey of Hope, the U.S. and Mexican bishops call for immigration reform which includes the following principles:  (1) legalization of the undocumented, regardless of country of origin; (2). reform of the family preference system to reduce backlogs in family reunification; (3). a temporary worker program which includes appropriate worker protections and wage levels; and (4). restoration of due process protections for immigrants.   The statement also calls for policies which impact the root causes of migration.

The legislation contains most elements of all four principles articulated by the bishops.  The proposed H 5-B program permits undocumented persons who have worked in the United States the opportunity to obtain a temporary visa and work legally in the United States.   After six years of work, the worker can petition for permanent residency and, if they so choose, pursue citizenship five years later.

The legislation also exempts immediate relatives of U.S. citizens from the annual 480,000 cap on family visas and increases the percentage of visas allowed per country each year from 7 percent to 10 percent of applications filed.    According to the bill’s sponsors, backlogs in the immediate family member category for permanent residents (2A) will be eliminated by 2008 and backlogs for all categories (brothers, sisters, adult children) will be eliminated by 2011.

The proposed temporary worker program, or the H-5A program, permits workers from abroad to apply for a temporary visa to work legally in the country.   They can work for any employer they choose, but in order to enter the country they must possess a job offer from an employer.   Employers are required to provide H-5A workers the same wages, benefits, and worker protections as U.S. workers and are penalized for trying to hire undocumented workers.  Family members will be able to remain together.

The legislation does not address due process restorations, such as elimination of the 3 and 10-year bars to readmission after being undocumented, but waives these “offenses” so that previously undocumented workers may participate in the program.

Do the U.S. Catholic bishops support the legislation?

In a statement issued July 19, 2005, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, stated the support of the USCCB for the legislation.   He added that USCCB would work to add other important provisions to the measure, including additional protections for workers in the temporary worker program.

He also urged Congress to engage the immigration reform debate in a civil manner so that a bipartisan and comprehensive piece of legislation may be enacted.

How will the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act help fix the broken immigration system, curb unauthorized immigration, and end the high number of deaths in the desert?

The legislation addresses both immigrants who are presently in the United States and those who may intend to come in the future, either for work or family reasons, the two primary reasons for immigration.   The proposed H-5B program allows a worker who has previously worked in the United States to enter the program without returning to their country of origin.   Currently, there are as many as 8-10 million undocumented persons in the country—many would be eligible for the H-5B program and would be able to legalize their status and, after six years, earn their permanent residency under the program.

The H-5A program would provide work visas to foreign workers who apply to work in the United States in their country of origin.   400,000 visas would be allocated in the first year, but each year thereafter the market would drive the number of visas available.  It is estimated that 300,000 to 500,000 unauthorized immigrants arrive in the United States each year.   The H-5A program would help reduce that number significantly and reduce the need for migrant workers to cross the desert at risk of their lives.     David Aguilar, director of the U.S. Border Patrol, recently testified before Congress that a temporary worker program would significantly mitigate the number of border crossers into the United States.

Finally, changes in the family-based immigration system to allow for increased numbers of family-based visas would drastically reduce the waiting times for relatives to obtain visas and be reunified.

Will this legislation lead to more undocumented immigration, like many commentators suggest happened after the last legalization bill in 1986?

No, because the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act is a different bill than the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).    It would reform all aspects of our legal immigration system and make legal “future flows” of immigrants.   IRCA only legalized immigrants in the United States and did not consider future migratory trends or future labor needs in the United States.  It also would create a system which lessens the incentive for employers to hire undocumented workers because (1) there would be a lower number available, 2) employers can be penalized for doing so, and (3) there would be a readily available supply of workers in the H-5A program.

Opponents of this legislation will claim that it is an “amnesty” and penalizes those who have waited in line for visas,  which implies that we are rewarding those who break the law.

The legislation is not an “amnesty,” in that it does not grant permanent legal status automatically to an undocumented person as the 1986 IRCA bill did.   Instead, it requires the undocumented already in the country to work for six years before becoming eligible to apply for permanent residency in the United States.   Because they must wait six years before applying, they are not “jumping the line,” ahead of those who are already in the application process.  Further, it requires that workers pay a penalty of $2000 to participate in the program.   They also must demonstrate that they are learning English and undergo rigorous criminal background checks.

It is impractical and would be detrimental to the economy for the United States to deport 8-10 million undocumented workers.   An “earned legalization” program, as included in the legislation, provides a fair process for allowing these workers to stay and adjust their status without “rewarding” them.

Will the new temporary worker program permit foreign workers to take jobs away from Americans and also depress wages for all workers?

No.   Studies demonstrate that immigrant workers fill jobs that most Americans are not interested in and do not fill.   Further, the Department of Labor has concluded that the United States will experience a shortage in labor in low-skilled jobs by 2008, due primarily to lower birth rates and higher educational levels among U.S. workers.   In 1960, half of all American men dropped out of high school and entered the unskilled labor force.   Today only 10 percent of the native-born drop out.

In addition, the Pew Hispanic Center has found that U.S. businesses create 485,000 jobs a year which immigrant workers can fill, in such crucial industries as agriculture, food-producing, service and hospitality, construction, and others.

Further, the legislation includes several measures which protect U.S. workers.   U.S. employers will be required to advertise all job openings to U.S. workers 30 days in advance and must hire a worker who qualifies for the job.   Employers are prohibited from hiring foreign workers to replace striking workers or recently fired workers.

A legalization program and a temporary worker program would help improve wages for both U.S. and immigrant workers.   After the 1986 IRCA bill, which legalized 2 million workers, wage rates for foreign-born and U.S. workers in specific low-skilled industries went up.   By reducing the number of undocumented workers who, because of their inability to assert their rights in the workplace, are forced to take submarket wages without protections, wages steadily rise for all workers.

What about enforcement in the legislation? Is it fair and humane and will it also protect our national security?

There are several enforcement-related provisions in the bill.   In testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bishop Gerald Barnes, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, stated that any enforcement regime should be “targeted, proportional, and humane.”

First, the legislation includes an employer eligibility confirmation system, to be administered by the Social Security Administration, which requires employers to verify the status of the worker they are employing or face stiff monetary penalties.  There are severe employer penalties for knowingly violating immigration laws.   This will ensure that the system is based on legality and not illegality.

Second, the legislation focuses on border enforcement by increasing the use of technology, including unmanned aerial drones, and mandates a process whereby the Department of Homeland Security will continue to monitor and accommodate changing enforcement needs along the border.   With the adoption of a new temporary worker program, border enforcement needs should be reduced over time.   The legislation also requires the development of a plan to focus upon smuggling and trafficking operations.

In terms of protecting national security, it requires those who participate in the H-5A and H 5-B program to “come out of the shadows” and register with the government and to pass background checks prior to entering the country.   This is seen as a good way to isolate would-be terrorists.

What about addressing root causes of migration?

The legislation encourages the U.S. government to work with sending countries to help develop their economies, especially in industries that employ unskilled workers.

It also encourages bilateral cooperation with Mexico to increase health care access to unskilled workers and their families in Mexico.

How is the Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act different from the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Act of 2005, recently introduced by Senator John Cornyn and Senator Jon Kyl?

The Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act of 2005 (CEIRA) does not include many of the provisions included in the Secure America Act, including any provisions to legalize undocumented workers in the United States or to address family unity visa backlogs.   It also contains many enforcement provisions which would unduly harm immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

Specifically, CEIRA requires that undocumented workers currently in the United States apply for mandatory departure to their country-of-origin and return home prior to applying for a new temporary worker program.   After the first year that a worker does not apply for mandatory departure, a $2,000 dollar penalty is assessed upon re-entry, which increases each subsequent year.  The temporary worker program grants a visa of two years to a worker, who must return home for a year after its expiration.    Family members may visit no longer than 30 days within a year.   There is no access to permanent legal status under the temporary worker program.

In addition, CEIRA includes many enforcement-related provisions of concern.   It expands the process of expedited removal, which allows for the removal of potential asylum seekers without appropriate screening, to all points on the border.  It also authorizes local law enforcement to enforce immigration law.

Essentially, the Cornyn-Kyl proposal emphasizes enforcement as a deterrent to illegal entry.   Because enforcement alone has proven to be an ineffective deterrent for those desperate to reunify with family members and take advantage of job opportunities, the legislation will do nothing to prevent an ever growing population of undocumented persons.

Why does the church care about immigration policies?  

The Catholic Church has historically held a strong interest in immigration and how public policy affects immigrants seeking a new life in the United States.   Based on Scriptural and Catholic social teachings, as well as her own experience as an immigrant Church in the United States, the Catholic Church is compelled to raise her voice on behalf of those who are marginalized and whose God-given rights are not respected.

The Church believes that current immigration laws and policies have often led to the undermining of immigrants’ human dignity and have kept families apart.  The existing immigration system has resulted in a growing number of persons in this country in an unauthorized capacity, living in the shadows as they toil in jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.  Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents must wait years for a visa to be reunited.  And, our nation’s border enforcement strategies have been ineffective and have led to the death of thousands of migrants.

The Church has a responsibility to shine the message of God on this issue and help to build bridges between all parties so that an immigration system can be created that is just for all and serves the common good, including the legitimate security concerns of our nation.

Does the Catholic Church support illegal immigration?

The Catholic Bishops do not condone unlawful entry or circumventions of our nation’s immigration laws.  The bishops believe that reforms are necessary in order for our nation’s immigration system to respond to the realities of separated families and labor demands that compel people to immigrate to the United States, whether in an authorized or unauthorized fashion.

Our nation’s economy demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand.  Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face interminable separations, sometimes of twenty years or longer, due to backlogs of available visas.  U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be updated to reflect these realties.

Does the Catholic Church support “amnesty”?

The Catholic bishops are proposing an earned legalization for those in this country in an unauthorized status and who have built up equities and are otherwise admissible. “Amnesty,” as commonly understood, implies a pardon and a reward for those who did not obey immigration laws, creating inequities for those who wait for legal entry.  The bishops’ proposal is not an “amnesty.”

The Bishops’ earned legalization proposal provides a window of opportunity for undocumented immigrants who are already living in our communities and contributing to our nation to come forward, pay a fine and application fee, go through rigorous criminal background checks and security screenings, demonstrate that they have paid taxes and are learning English, and obtain a visa that could lead to permanent residency, over time.

Don’t the millions of illegals in this country pose a potential security threat?  Shouldn’t we deport them?

The economic implications of such a proposition, both in terms of the costs of undertaking such an effort and the ramifications of losing so many millions of workers for which our economy is dependent, make it infeasible.  The Catholic bishops believe, however, that by offering undocumented immigrants a legal path to permanent residency, they will come forward and make themselves known to authorities.  For security purposes, it would be much better to know who these individuals are and to provide them an opportunity to come out of the shadows.

Our nation is in a war on terrorism; shouldn’t we be sealing our borders entirely?

The Catholic bishops believe, as do many others who have objectively studied the question of border enforcement, that no border enforcement strategy will be effective in keeping determined people out unless it is combined with policy changes that address the push and pull factors that compel immigrants to come here.

From 1993 to 2004, spending for border enforcement nearly quadrupled.  Yet, the number of unauthorized arrivals increased.  Moreover, U.S. border enforcement strategies have channeled migrants to more remote crossing points, resulting in increased fatalities, a growth in smugglers and traffickers, and reduced chances of apprehension.

Our nation’s security concerns would be better met by having an immigration system that allows well-intentioned immigrants the opportunity to enter in a more timely fashion through legal means, thereby allowing enforcement resources to be focused on would-be terrorists, smugglers and other criminals who would try to circumvent and  manipulate the system to gain entry.