Immigration proposal falls short of church's standards, says EMM director

Friday Forum
December 9, 2005

The Bush Administration's immigration reform proposal does not meet the Episcopal Church's standards for a "meaningful" change in immigration policy, according to Richard Parkins, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries.

"While acknowledging the need to consider a program for temporary works, and referencing a concern for immigrants in the US, [the proposal] falls short of the comprehensive reform hoped for," noted Parkins. Assessing an Arizona speech by Bush on November 29, Parkins said that "even with the inclusion of a guest workers' program, rejection of earned permanent residency and eventual citizenship for so-called temporary workers was a serious deficiency of the proposal."

A resolution of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council, adopted at its June 2005 meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, made clear that the option of becoming a permanent resident and even a citizen was an essential requirement of any comprehensive reform package which the church would support.

"Those who contribute to the economy and their adopted communities should be offered a chance to stay legally in the US," said Parkins. "Moreover, returning folks and making them come back as guest workers probably creates circumstances where many will attempt to stay once their temporary status has expired.

"A policy of return cancels many of the benefits of an orderly and transparent system of allowing workers to come to the US to make a needed contribution to our economy."

The measures focus on border enforcement, punishment for those who enter without papers, and expanded detention capacity. Those entering the US illegally would be returned directly to the Mexican communities from which they have come.

"Giving so little attention to the economic pressures which cause folks to accept incalculable risks to enter the US so that their families can live in more than grinding poverty is a serious flaw in the Administration's understanding of our immigration crisis," Parkins observed. "It is also this narrower view of the problem that prompts some of the more restrictive Congressional measures being offered as the country views various reform options."

While legislation dealing with immigrants must take into account the priority of national security, Parkins said, "assigning equal priority to a practical, just and fair system for allowing workers and their families to come to the US to earn a living, be protected as workers, and offered full participation in the society to which they will be making a contribution does not contradict the importance of security."

Parkins said the proposed Kennedy-McCain bill, entitled the Secure America and Immigration Reform Act of 2005, is more in line with what most faith based organizations have endorsed in public statements about immigration reform. Without offering blanket amnesty to those now in the country without papers, or automatic permanent residence to new groups of workers, it does make those options possible if certain reasonable requirements are met -- such as having undocumented workers pay a fine and any back taxes in order to seek legal status. According to proponents, the Kennedy-McCain bill is a more balanced approach that includes a means for workers to come to the US in an orderly and legal manner in response to known job opportunities, while also recognizing legitimate US security needs.