Thursday, January 3, 2013


Homeland Security has announced an important change in the process whereby unauthorized immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens can apply for permanent residency.

Up to now, such immigrants would have to return to their country of origin and begin the process to obtain a valid visa.  However, this process often took months or even years, separating family members for long periods of time.  Immigrants from Mexico were required to go to Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, to begin the process.  However, Ciudad Juarez is one of the most violent cities in Mexico, and drug traffickers basically control the city.  There is hardly any police protection.

People waiting for visas would have to hide for months or years in great fear of their lives.  The uncertainty and physical threats and risks dissuaded immigrants from following the previous process, and forced people to remain without legal status because of these fears.

Not any more.

This new rule from Homeland Security reduces the amount of time unauthorized immigrants need to be separated from their American families while they seek legal status.  Under the new system, the immigrant completes the process here in the USA and is assured of getting the visa.  He or she then travels to their country of origin to pick up the visa which has already been approved at a U.S. Consulate.

Keeping families united has been one of the pillars of the Catholic Church's immigration policies.  This new process is humane and sensible, and it avoids uncertain and long periods of separation as family members must split up while seeking an uncertain future visa.

To qualify for the expedited visa process the unauthorized immigrant would need to demonstrate "extreme hardship" by following the earlier, lengthy and uncertain process.  For us disciples of Jesus, any uncertain separation between family members is seen as extreme hardship.  To separate a mother from her children, a father from his job and family, and children from a parent--all of these are human hardships.  And there is no need for such prolonged and uncertain separations.

It is sad that the gridlock and stalemate which has developed in Congress makes it virtually impossible to reach consensus on so many issues facing our nation.  Nonetheless, we in the Church continue to pursue all avenues to improve the dignity and lives of all immigrants living among us.  We will continue to work with the President and Congressional leaders to secure comprehensive immigration reform.

Jesus' Gospel imperative remains our inspiration and our focus:  "For I was a stranger, and you welcomed me!"  (Matthew 25:35)