May 25, 2007

Be Our Guest / Glenn Tebbe

Immigration legislation must focus on well-being of families

Democratic and Republican senators, along with White House officials, have negotiated a potential compromise immigration reform bill.

It is important that this issue be resolved for the millions of people affected, and because there are many problems in U.S. policies and immigration laws. A comprehensive bill correcting the flaws and providing realistic immigration policies is long overdue. However, a just policy must be the outcome.

It is important that any legislation includes: 1) a legalization program with a path to citizenship for immigrants and their families; 2) a new worker program with worker protections, family unity and a path to citizenship; and 3) the preservation of family reunification as a cornerstone of the U.S. immigration system. A common theme in each point is family. Yet it is under attack in current proposals.

The compromise bill has proposed the elimination of several categories of family immigration, including the adult sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and parents of U.S. citizens. Their plan also would prevent the reunification of immediate family members (spouse and minor children) in a new worker program and in any legalization program.

These proposals could lead to family breakdown and to unintended social consequences in immigrant communities and throughout the nation. Families are the backbone of immigrant communities and help individuals assimilate into their new homes and cities or towns.

Family members are less likely to become dependent on government programs if they support each other. Immigrant families come from cultures in which the family is supportive of each member and from countries in which there is not a well-developed government welfare system. They take care of one another in times of economic, physical or emotional hardship.

Immigrant families also promote good citizenship and stewardship. Having family members with them in a country strengthens their ties to the country and encourages the respect of that country’s laws, customs and resources.

Preventing immediate family members from joining their loved ones in a new legalization program or new worker program could lead to family breakdown and disruption in immigrant communities.

In addition, it could lead to additional undocumented immigration as close family members seek to enter the U.S. illegally to join loved ones.

Abandoning our family-based immigration system would be short-sighted. It could lead to unintended social consequences and would deprive our country of the industry and vibrancy that immigrant families bring to us.

The family unit is critical for the physical, social, emotional and spiritual development of each person. Among the Church’s enumeration of human rights is the right to live in a united family.

In addition, anti-family policies are contrary to the values and principles that U.S. citizens hold dear and strive to protect.

Please contact Indiana’s senators and ask them to keep family a priority in all immigration reform proposals.

You can reach Sen. Richard Lugar’s local office at 317-226-5555 or his Washington, D.C., office at 202-624-1474.

Sen. Evan Bayh’s local office number is 317-554-0750. His Washington office number is 202-224-5623.

(Glenn Tebbe is executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.) †

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