Immigration: Living in the shadows
By Jean Torkelson and Mayé Agama
Photo by James Baca/DCR File Photo
National Migration Week is Jan. 6-12. This story is the first in a four-part series exploring issues surrounding immigration.
Immigration reform, until now much discussed but little accomplished, may be making headway toward concrete solutions in this new year, 2013.
At least three measures—each specifically directed toward either state law, federal policies or Catholic thought—are expected to help direct Colorado’s ongoing conversation about immigration reform in the coming year.
One measure comes from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the Justice for Immigrants program at www.justiceforimmigrants.org.
In a recent interview with the Denver Catholic Register and El Pueblo Católico, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez urged Catholics to familiarize themselves with the Justice for Immigrants program, calling immigration reform “the most pressing human rights issue our country faces right now.”
“We have witnessed the family separation, exploitation, and the loss of life caused by the current system,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Millions of persons remain in the shadows, without legal protection and marginalized from society. As a moral matter, this suffering must end.”
Archbishop Gomez, who was the auxiliary bishop of Denver from 2001 to 2005, also expressed his conviction that answers can be found.
“We can find the courage to create a principled immigration policy,” he said. “A policy that includes a just solution to the problem of those who are here in violation of our laws. A policy that secures our borders against illegal crossings, and welcomes new immigrants who have the character and skills our country needs to grow and flourish.”
Toward national reform
On Dec. 9, the state’s three Catholic bishops, including Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, put their names, along with about 85 other civic and faith-based leaders, to the bipartisan document called the Colorado Compact. While not binding, the compact reflects similar documents signed by other states that set broad principles to direct federal immigration policies.
Archbishop Aquila and the bishops were represented at the ceremonial signing by the Colorado Catholic Conference, the state-level, public policy arm of the Church.
“It was a great bipartisan event that really brought together leaders on both sides of the aisle,” said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference. “These were not only political leaders but faith leaders and business leaders. It really solidified for Colorado a set of principles that should guide us as a country and a state as we think about immigration reform in a more serious way.”
The principles may be read in full at www.coloradocompact.org. In brief, the compact calls for a national immigration policy that keeps people safe and borders protected. It acknowledges the role of business in a free market economy and supports a visa system that would honor the contribution of undocumented workers as taxpayers and consumers.
The compact identifies its top priorities as national security, intact families and public safety. It also calls for a “sensible path forward” for immigrants of non-legal status who “are of good character, pay taxes and are committed to becoming fully participating members of our society and culture.”
“We’re hoping that the compact synthesizes our feelings on immigration that go beyond just the nice words,” Kraska said. “What is so important is that it got bipartisan support—which is very rarely seen, especially on immigration reform. The hope is that these principles will guide the conversation and be kept in mind as we’re writing and guiding legislation.”
At the state level
When the Colorado Legislature reconvenes today, Jan. 9, chances are a familiar bill will be on the docket for another try after several years of defeat.
Colorado Asset creates a more affordable category of college-level tuition, called standard rate tuition, for immigrants who have lived and completed their secondary education in Colorado but don’t have legal status here. Catholic leaders, going back to Archbishop Charles Chaput, have been passionate supporters of the bill in legislative sessions going back to 2009.
Broadly speaking, students who are undocumented but longstanding residents of Colorado are eligible for affordable tuition rates if they have attended a Colorado public or private high school for a substantial period of time, and graduated or obtained a GED in Colorado, and have been accepted at a college-level institution in the state.
So far, 13 states have adopted similar laws to Colorado Asset.
While specific policies may be open to debate, the dignity of the immigrant is not, Kraska said.
“We can differ on how to achieve (policies),” she said. Nevertheless, “We need a common solution to bring these people into society, because they do want to be here and pay taxes and contribute to America.
“We are a nation of immigrants,” Kraska noted, “and this is a problem that needs to be solved. The Church has an important voice in helping to guide the conversation."