Posted March 31, 2006
Statement of the Catholic Bishops of Illinois on Immigration Reform
As we continue our Lenten practices, we, the Catholic Bishops of Illinois,
call on the United States Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform
legislation that will lead to a genuine welcome for the stranger in our
Most today admit that our current system of immigration and border control
does not work and has not for many years. Our borders are not secure, our
current quotas for immigration do not realistically reflect economic,
political, or social reality, and the rule of law has been significantly
weakened by our current unreasonable and unworkable system.
Now is not the time to overreact to what is universally acknowledged to be
an intolerable situation by passing even more unrealistic and unworkable
regulations. Legislation currently being considered in the United States
Congress (H.R. 4437) is just such an over reaction . While recognizing the
reasonable demand in a “post 9-11” world to restore the rule of law and to
protect our borders, these goals cannot sensibly be accomplished through
unfair laws and regulations that would criminalize much of what is currently
normal civic life.
One of the provisions now being considered would criminalize the pastoral,
social or health care that our churches, social service organizations,
hospitals and volunteer groups provide to all people without discrimination
or question of status or legal condition. Anyone providing even basic
humanitarian assistance to undocumented immigrants could be charged with a
felony level criminal offense. This provision is one we especially oppose as
our faith calls us to serve those in need. Our churches and other Catholic
institutions should not be placed in such a precarious position. Doing so
does not address the currently flawed immigration system and only does harm
to those in need.
In addition, the economic and personal costs associated with implementing
these laws would be great. Current estimates are that we have between ten
to twelve million men, women, and children living in the United States in an
undocumented status. Reasonably, we cannot and should not want to deport
every one of these immigrants. From a human perspective, the separation and
dislocation of so many families would be devastating. From pragmatic
considerations, the cost of deporting so many people would be prohibitive
and, because most are at least partly integrated into the economy, the
social and economic consequences to the United States could be disastrous.
Just looking at the many faces of the people recently demonstrating against
H.R. 4437 in Chicago shows who would be adversely impacted by this law.
These undocumented immigrants are our friends, our neighbors, our fellow
human beings bound to us by a common humanity. Any just response to
immigration reform must be rooted in the recognition that, ultimately, we
are one human family.
We must emphasize that we are not proposing amnesty for illegal behavior.
Rather, we support sensible immigration reform that secures our borders,
establishes realistic enforcement strategies that will restore the rule of
law, but that also allows for non-documented men and women to move towards a
fully documented, legally recognized status and provides a safe, orderly,
and fair system for those who wish to come to work in the United States.
What would such a law look like? We are pastors, not politicians, so we can
offer only general principles. It ought to be structured so as not to
appear to reward those who have not obeyed the current immigration laws. It
should provide for reasonable penalties for those who are currently
undocumented and wish to remain in the U.S. without disrupting their current
economic situation or separating their families.
Such a law should also ensure that those who remain in the United States
demonstrate that they have the potential to be productive, law abiding
citizens. This could be accomplished through their paying federal and state
taxes, achieving English language proficiency and adequate citizenship
knowledge, maintaining a clean police record, and contributing to their
communities for a reasonable, but sufficiently long span of time. This
would result in an “earned” citizenship.
This system should also provide the greatest incentives for people to enter
the U.S. through the normal, though revised, immigration process by
providing realistic opportunities, reflective of the demands of the labor
market, to enter the U.S. in order to work (at even non-skilled or
As the United States Senate begins debate on this issue, we find the
McCain-Kennedy proposal (S. 1033) in the Senate accommodates most of these
We are largely a nation of immigrants and their descendants and we all have
benefited from our country’s tradition of welcoming immigrants. Our nation’
s vitality and economic success come, to a large extent, as a result of
immigration. Men, women and children historically have come, and continue
to come, to our nation for a variety of reasons: personal safety, economic
opportunity, and educational advancement. We recognize that the homelands of
those coming to the United States must also consider their own systems and
address some of these reasons so that migration may be motivated not by
necessity, but by choice. Yet as immigrants do continue to come here, we
also know that their vitality, work, and presence have made and will
continue to make our nation even greater. They are our brothers and
sisters, and we should find ways to welcome them.
His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Chicago
Most Reverend Joseph L. Imesch
Most Reverend Thomas G. Doran
Bishop of Joliet Bishop of Rockford
Most Reverend George J. Lucas
Bishop of Springfield-in-Illinois
Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C.
Bishop of Peoria
Most Reverend Edward K. Braxton
Bishop of Belleville