NEW YORK – The U.S. bishops’ conference is calling on Congress to follow-through on immigration reform after the House Judiciary Committee approved language this week that would create a pathway to citizenship in the forthcoming budget reconciliation bill.

The provisions – approved by the House Judiciary Committee on Sept. 13 – would create a pathway to citizenship for an estimated eight million undocumented people including Dreamers who arrived in the United States as minors, Temporary Protected Status recipients, Deferred Enforcement Departure beneficiaries and agricultural and other essential workers.

“We welcome this crucial step,” said Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, chairman of the USCCB committee on Migration, in a Sept. 15 statement. “We call on both the House and Senate to include these provisions in the final reconciliation bill.”

The proposal passed on a 25-19 party line vote. The proposal stipulates that for someone to apply for permanent residency they would need to pass a background check, pay $1,500 and other statutory fees, and other requirements depending on their current status.

Another provision in the approved House Judiciary measures reclaims unused visas, which would help speed up the legal immigration process.

Immigration advocates were hopeful a Joe Biden presidency would bring long awaited immigration reform. To date, however, many have been disappointed by a lack of change and the continuation of Trump administration policies, including the use of Title 42, which allows the expulsion of migrants on health grounds.

Moreover, at the end of August the Supreme Court ordered the Remain in Mexico policy to be reinstated, forcing asylum seekers to stay in Mexico until their case is decided.

The number of undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has skyrocketed in 2021, with U.S. Border Patrol data from July showing nearly 200,000 encounters with migrants along the border. It was the highest monthly total in years.

In his statement, Dorsonville noted that the U.S. bishops have called for comprehensive immigration reform long before Biden took office.

“For decades, the bishops of the United States have been proponents of such reforms, which promote integration and family unity,” Dorsonville said in the Sept. 15 statement. “We cannot persist in relegating these members of our society to the margins, especially when we simultaneously depend on so many of them for our collective well-being.”

The language on immigration reform still must get approved by the Senate parliamentarian to wind up in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. For that to happen the parliamentarian must rule that the provisions have a direct fiscal effect – a requirement of the reconciliation process.

Reconciliation allows items related to the federal budget to be passed through a simple majority.

Dorsonville also called on the bill to “help all those on the margins of our society, strengthens families, protects religious freedom, promotes care for creation, and respects the rights and dignity of every human life, from conception until natural death.”

On Sept. 7, five USCCB committee chairman, including Dorsonville, sent a letter to Congress outlining priorities for Congress to consider. In addition to immigration reform, these included: Jobs for the poor and vulnerable, strengthening families, expanding access to early childhood education, ensuring safe, decent and affordable housing, care for creation, preserving religious liberty and respecting the rights and dignity of every human life in health care.

The signatories were Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, chairman of the religious liberty committee; Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, chairman of the pro-life activities committee, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the domestic justice and human development, and Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, chairman of the Catholic education committee.

Five days later, Dorsonville followed up with his own letter to the House Judiciary Committee warning against a “double society” where some have rights and others are “invisible” without rights, and how the provisions could bring many out of the “shadows of society.”

“The provisions drafted by the House Judiciary Committee would not provide relief to all of our undocumented brothers and sisters,” Dorsonville wrote. “However, they would go a long way toward bringing many of them out of the shadows of society and enable them to continue contributing to our collective wellbeing while living in dignity and without fear of being separated from their families and the country they have come to know as their own.”

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