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YEAREND-IMMIGRATION Dec-11-2007 (1,050 words) With photos and logo posted Dec. 10. xxxn

2008 elections cast a shadow over efforts to pass immigration law

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Even though the next election was a year or more away, the prospect of winding up on the wrong side of the wishes of voters or vocal interest groups led politicians in Washington to shy away from immigration reform for yet another year.

Meanwhile, in the absence of action at the federal level in 2007, the volume was turned up on calls to crack down on illegal immigration. Immigrants throughout the country started to feel caught in the cross hairs of enforcement raids, new local laws and vitriolic rhetoric.

As it became apparent that the status quo would not be changing because of any action taken by Congress, advocates for comprehensive immigration reform turned their energies to battling attempts at new local restrictions and to helping undocumented immigrants prepare for possible raids and deportation.

Others cranked up programs to help immigrants become citizens and registered voters, inundating the federal offices that process naturalization applications.

In June the Senate took up a comprehensive immigration reform package that had been drafted by the White House, working in conjunction with senators from both parties, and representatives of business, agriculture, immigrant, civil rights and religious communities.

Opponents argued, for one thing, that its provisions for a path to legalization for illegal immigrants should not come in the same package as provisions for tougher enforcement at the border and by employers.

But though the bill's backers could have pulled together a simple majority to pass the bill, they twice failed to round up the 60 votes necessary under Senate procedures to end debate and bring it to a final vote.

In the House, no bill even came close to reaching the floor, despite the strong support of immigration subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who held numerous hearings covering a full range of immigration issues.

Efforts also failed to pass bills with broad bipartisan support, such as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (or DREAM) Act, which would have allowed students who arrived illegally in the country as children to attend college at in-state tuition rates and legalize their own status; or the Agricultural Jobs, Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act, known as AgJOBS, which would open up more visas for agricultural workers.

AgJOBS has huge support in the agricultural industry, which has had increasing trouble finding enough workers to handle their usual planting and harvest cycles, leaving crops to rot in the fields in some cases.

By early December it seemed unlikely that any meaningful immigration legislation would pass in 2007. And there was little chance that congressional leaders would risk election-year stakes by trying to push it in 2008.

Indeed, as the presidential primaries drew close, Republican candidates, especially, took increasingly strong positions against any kind of immigration legislation that would help legalize people already in the country without the proper paperwork and called for a wall on the Mexican border and other tough enforcement efforts.

Even in a debate Dec. 9 before a Spanish-speaking audience that avoided the candidates' usual swiping at each other over, for instance, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's previous support of tolerance toward undocumented immigrants in the city as an unacceptable "sanctuary" policy, two candidates bemoaned "chain migration," which allows one legal immigrant to bring in other family members.

Given the lack of progress on the national political front, organizations that comprise a coalition backing comprehensive legislation began to work more intently on other pieces of the situation.

In Oklahoma, Tulsa Bishop Edward J. Slattery issued a pastoral letter outlining a diocesan response to a new state statute on illegal immigration described as one of the harshest in the nation.

The plan calls, in part, for people to have equal access to all Catholic programs regardless of their immigration status and pledges to provide legal aid to those who want to establish or maintain legal U.S. residency.

The new state law makes it a felony to knowingly harbor or transport an illegal alien and creates new barriers to hiring illegal immigrants. It requires proof of citizenship to obtain certain government benefits and requires all state agencies and contractors to check the immigration status of their workers.

Bishop Slattery said the local church will provide a standardized power of attorney form that parents at risk of deportation can use to provide for the care of their children in case they are arrested.

Late in 2007 and expected to continue into 2008, immigration raids at meat packing plants and factories in Colorado, Nebraska, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina and elsewhere brought the faces of the families affected by illegal immigration into focus. Catholic social service agencies were among the first to respond to calls for assistance for families separated by arrests and deportation.

Elsewhere, Catholic parishes, dioceses and organizations such as the National Pastoral Life Center offered guidebooks for immigrants, held forums and offered materials on how to hold an immigration discussion in a faith context.

Throughout the year, bishops, state Catholic conferences, religious orders and other Catholic entities issued numerous statements, pastoral letters, testimony and letters to Congress focusing on the moral obligation to treat immigrants well. Many, like Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, decried the hostile tone taken by those opposed to legislation considered favorable to people who are in the country illegally.

"This is not the American way," he said at the Notre Dame Forum on the university campus in October. "It's destructive and divisive and it's going to diminish the sense of unity we have as a nation."

The annual Labor Day statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that during the congressional debate, "anger trumped wisdom, myths overwhelmed facts and slogans replaced solutions." It called for "reality, civility, morality and consistency" in national discussions on immigration.

Nor was immigration a topic solely on the U.S. agenda.

The arrest of a U.S. refugee worker by Canadian authorities in September prompted Catholic charitable and other organizations to launch a campaign protecting humanitarian workers from prosecution under laws aimed at human traffickers.

Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, 65, founder of a Pennsylvania-based refugee advocacy group, was charged with people-smuggling as she delivered 12 Haitian asylum seekers to the border post at Lacolle, Quebec, Sept. 28. Charges were later dropped.

END


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