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California Bishops call for fair immigration reform

Bay Area faith groups, community organiztions, business and labor leaders held a press conference in Yerba Buena Gardens Wednesday calling for fair immigration reform
for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
Photos by John Han

By John Han

December 6, 2007

California Catholic Bishops called for continued efforts towards comprehensive and "fair" immigration reform Wednesday to protect the rights of undocumented immigrant workers and their families in the U.S.

Archbishop George Niederauer said at a press conference in San Francisco that the current immigration system is, "outmoded because it does not contain sufficient work visas for temporary migrant workers to enter the country in a safe, legal, and orderly manner."

Joined by Bay Area faith groups, community organizations, business and labor leaders, Niederauer said the work immigrants perform in industries such as agriculture, service, and construction, are important to California and the nation.

"From our experience, the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants in America are not criminals. They migrate in order to find work to support themselves and their families," said Niederauer. "We urge all Catholics and all Californians to reject attacks on immigrants and to work constructively towards a human resolution of this problem of illegal immigration."

Archbishop George Niederauer

San Francisco Immigrant Rights Commissioner Angus McCarthy said immigrant advocacy groups had to evaluate what failed after the Bush Administration's controversial Immigration Reform bill suffered a landslide defeat in the Senate in June.

The bi-partisan bill, introduced by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA), would have provided a pathway toward citizenship to millions of undocumented workers currently living in the U.S. The bill received various criticisms from both Republicans and Democrats with many Republicans turning against Bush, accusing the bill of giving amnesty to illegal aliens.

"This is one of the first moves [since then] by the Catholic charities and the churches to come forward and speak out on the issue," McCarthy said. But he called Bush's version of immigration reform "complex".

The bill would have included $4.4 billion to fund "enhanced" border securities. That would have included building more detention facilities to accommodate 31,500 detainees, increased fencing and border patrols, and the installation of ground-based radar and camera towers along the Southern border.

George Wesolek, Director of Archdiocese of San Francisco, said that though he thought the bill was a compromise, he nevertheless supports it.

"It was moving in the right direction," he said.

"We supported a general idea of having some sort of a path to citizenship which the bill provided," Wesolek added. "It was a little punitive of people coming and then not being able to have their families come and join them for as long as maybe ten or fifteen years."

Globalization and free trade agreements such as NAFTA have also played a key role in the patterns of migration and needed to be recognized Wesolek said.

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval said free trade agreements had serious detrimental effects on rural communities in places such as Mexico, including displacement and migration of workers into bigger cities.

Sandoval said local Mexican farmers could not compete with giant U.S corporations that can grow and sell corn in Mexico at cheaper rates than Mexican farmers. But many other businesses were causing displacement as well.

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval

"When you look at the growth of big chain stores like Wal-Mart and Mexico, you have to understand that Wal-Mart is selling products to customers that previously were buying local products," Sandoval said

"With the loss of jobs, people either have to come work at Wal-Mart or go to the big cities or to the United States. But they no longer can stay in their small towns."

"My grandfather was a furniture maker and he made everything out of wood and straw. I know that the type of product that he made is less and less in demand because people now will buy a plastic chair made in China and sold by Wal-Mart. That's a direct consequence."





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