COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Although immigration is not always front and center in public political discussions, it is often “talked about in the back rooms” and is a key issue for both political parties, a speaker told a Colorado Springs conference.
“Immigration is being viewed by both political parties as being determinant on their future interests,” said Kevin Appleby, director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. bishops in Washington. “What will our politics look like 20 years from now? How will that tip the balance of power?”
Appleby spoke during the opening plenary session of a three-day meeting of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, May 20-22. He also addressed another gathering, Justice for Immigrants, which took place in Colorado Springs at the same time.
“We have a president who is very supportive of immigration reform, Appleby told the CLINIC audience, adding that in the 2008 election President Barack Obama carried states with large Hispanic populations by wide margins while eking out victories in those with “anti-immigrant sentiments.”
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., CLINIC board chairman, delivered opening remarks at the gathering and focused on the importance of CLINIC’s work.
“In the circumstances we’re in today, there may not be alternatives” to offer immigrants, he said. “There may not be many remedies that we can present to them. There may not appear much hope.”
But he encouraged members of CLINIC to continue their work, saying it “can be a very powerful sign of hope and joy” that can give people perseverance “to hold on and to continue to work for a better world and a better opportunity for their children.”
Appleby said the USCCB is in favor of sweeping changes in national immigration legislation with such provisions as earned legalization, reduced times for family unification and legalized status for college students who are children of illegal immigrants.
“It’s a broad agenda. It’s an ambitious agenda. With the new current political landscape, will we be able to achieve the agenda?” he asked.
Appleby said he was buoyed by President Obama’s campaign promises to push through comprehensive immigration legislation and cautioned against criticizing the current administration before giving it more time to get the right people in place to effect change.
“I jumped up and down when I saw (President Obama) on TV with (Mexican) President (Jose) Calderon talking about this issue,” he added.
Another plenary panelist, Chris West, an community organizer for Catholic Relief Services, said that migration has been part of the human condition since Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden.
He also said that opponents of the type of immigration reform proposed by Catholic agencies are often driven by fear.
“It’s a lot easier to sell fear than love. Our anti-immigrant foes use fears a lot,” he added.
According to West, more than 70 percent of those polled have said that they support reform. However, he said members of the minority are the vocal ones.
Part of CRS’ efforts in immigration reform include serving as a moral voice, educating Catholics on immigration, standing in solidarity with immigrants and organizing efforts such as prayer vigils and campaigns to try to influence lawmakers.
“Being an immigrant church … Catholics were picked on more than any other immigrant group. Today, in Catholic parishes, I would dare say most of us have forgotten that,” he said.