Local News

Immigration Debate Brings Raleigh Catholic Diocese to Take Public Stand

Posted May 21, 2007 7:19 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2007 8:11 a.m. EDT

— From Capitol Hill to the Triangle, the debate over immigration is heating up.

In Washington on Monday, lawmakers discussed a controversial proposal that its supporters say would steer millions of immigrants toward permanent residency, prevent illegal immigrants from getting jobs and toughen border security.

In Raleigh, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh outlined the importance of immigration reform.

Bishop Michael Burbidge said he agrees with parts of what has been reported about the bill introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and disagrees with other parts.

Burbidge added the diocese’s public voice to the political debate swirling around the issue of what to do about illegal immigrants already in the country and about the stream of people coming north from Mexico and Latin America.

The bipartisan bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for some 12 million immigrants now in the United States illegally. It also would mandate tougher border security and work place enforcement and provide for a guest worker program.
The bill would allow illegal immigrants to come forward right away, but they could not get visas or begin a path to citizenship until the border security improvements and a high-tech worker identification program were put in place.

After that, illegal immigrants could obtain a renewable "Z visa" that would allow them stay in the country indefinitely. After paying fees and fines totaling $5,000, they could ultimately get on track for permanent residency, which could take between eight and 13 years. Heads of households would have to return to their home countries first.

Supporters say the reform plan would help illegal immigrants become legal, but it does nothing to help their families left behind in Mexico and other countries. It does nothing to reunite those families with their loved ones here in America, they say.

“To eliminate this as a component of immigration reform is simply unthinkable,” Burbidge said.

Msgr. Michael Clay, a spokesman for the diocese, said, “We would find that to be extremely difficult to accept because our society, our church, our world is based on the principal of family.”

Ron Woodard heads NC Listen, a group that says reform needs to be about stopping what it calls “out of control” immigration.

“What they wanted to do was get here without having to stand in line,” Woodard said.

There are 20 million people standing in line to come to America legally, Woodward said. He said there is no sympathy for them, asked why America should reward illegal immigrants who have broken the law by bringing their families into the country.

“We're not going to be able to take everybody. And people who want to come to our country have to understand that there are laws and that there is a line to stand in. And they have to stand in that line, and they shouldn't be able to circumvent that process, Woodard said.

“My highest priority would be for reforms that include family immigration,” Burbidge said at his news conference.

“To have a law that then legalizes the eternal separation of families for as long as people live seems to us to be unthinkable,” Clay said.

Senator Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., said she opposes the current bill unless it is revised, though she noted that the language in the bill was uncertain as late as late Friday night.

Last year, Dole voted against a Senate bill that included amnesty for illegal immigrants, and a statement from her office said she continues to oppose amnesty.

Dole’s office said she supports stricter border enforcement, effective work place verification of immigration or citizenship credentials, and a truly temporary worker program to fill jobs that American workers do not want in construction, agriculture and other sectors.

El Pueblo, a Hispanic advocacy group in the state, issued a statement it, too opposes the bill as written.

"El Pueblo does not support the current bill as it is written and calls on the U.S. Senate to make major revisions that will honor the intrinsic value of families, protect the rights of all workers, and eliminate the creation of a 'class-based' immigration system," the group said.