Time for immigration reform is now

Fr. Jon Pedigo | The Mercury News | Link to Article

As our national political debate remains focused on the essential task of reforming health care, thousands will gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., this weekend for a rally and interfaith service calling attention to an immigration system that tears families apart and betrays American values.

Along with parishioners from St. Julie Billiart and PACT leaders from San Jose, I will join other Catholics from our diocese and churches across California as we march, pray and stand in solidarity with immigrants in the shadows of the Lincoln Memorial. We will join Christians, Jews and Muslims across the country bearing witness to the hopeful stories and heartbreaking struggles of those often demonized by hateful rhetoric and urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

At a time of economic crisis, partisan gridlock and looming midterm elections, many in Washington would rather put off this challenge for another day. But now is the time for political courage and a commitment to the common good. Opponents of immigration reform often use fear and play loose with the facts in making the case that comprehensive reform is simply giving amnesty to those who broke the law. In fact, practical and humane immigration reform offers a realistic solution to complex challenges.

An enforcement strategy alone can't address the reality of an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the country. An earned legalization program with a path to citizenship is not a handout. It would require undocumented immigrants to work, take English classes and pay fines.

A sensible and pragmatic approach would also crack down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants, provide reasonable safety protections for workers, and acknowledge that employers and U.S. consumers benefit from the labor of undocumented workers even as immigrants themselves have no protection from exploitation.

Comprehensive reform will also make sure that families are not separated in deportation raids or forced to wait years before they reunite with parents and children. The National Council of La Raza and the Urban Institute have reported that nearly two-thirds of children split up from their parents in raids are U.S. citizens.

Over the past several decades, the federal government has poured billions into beefing up border security. Migrants have responded by finding new and more dangerous routes through the Arizona desert. There is no wall high enough to deter the dreams of those seeking a better life.

All nations have a right to control flows of immigration. But addressing the realities of global migration and the root causes of why so many risk death to come here requires more than tough talk from politicians or cowboy justice of local sheriffs. It demands pragmatic solutions that reject false choices. We can be a nation of laws and safeguard our values. We can protect our borders and uphold human dignity.

While tackling immigration reform now may be viewed as politically inconvenient, the faith community is mobilized like never before to pressure Congress and President Barack Obama to do the right thing. Efforts such as the Justice for Immigrants Campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform are working nationally and in states where key members of Congress will be decisive in passing reform.

As people of faith, we are keeping our eyes on the prize, just as we did as leaders of the civil rights movement and other historic struggles for justice that helped perfect the promise of America. When the marching and praying end this weekend in Washington, our representatives in Congress will know we don't plan on stopping anytime soon.

THE REV. JON PEDIGO is pastor of St. Julie Billiart Parish in San Jose. He is a PACT (People Acting in Community Together) faith leader and was named the 2008 immigrant advocate of the year award by the Services, Immigrants Rights and Education Network. He wrote this article for this newspaper.