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THE MIGRATION Committee of the US bishops’ conference, along with the Pro-Life Committee chairman Cardinal Sean O’Malley, held a Mass at the US-Mexico border on Tuesday to commemorate the hundreds of people each year who perish trying to cross the border. Hundreds of would-be migrants die in the Arizona desert of dehydration or hypothermia or in shootings.
The bishops also gathered to urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Called “Our Lampedusa”, the event included a tour of the border area. It reflects the visit of Pope Francis to the Italian island of Lampedusa last year, to remember the African migrants who died when their boats capsized as they were trying to reach Europe.
Catholics on the other side of the border fence, in Mexico, participated in the Mass. At Communion, they received the Eucharist through the slats in the wooden fencing. In his homily, Cardinal O’Malley spoke of the role immigrants play in US society and the suffering they endure to reach the country.
“Despite the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population, our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well-being of the United States,” O’Malley said. “Here in the desert of Arizona, we come to mourn the countless immigrants who risk their lives at the hands of the coyotes [people smugglers] and the forces of nature to come to the United States. Every year 400 bodies are found here at the border, bodies of men, women and children seeking to enter the United States. Those are only the bodies that are found. As the border crossings become more difficult, people take greater risks and more are perishing. Last year about 25,000 children, mostly from Central America, arrived in the US, unaccompanied by an adult. Tens of thousands of families are separated in the midst of migration patterns. More than 10 million undocumented immigrants are exposed to exploitation, lack access to basic human services and live in constant fear.”
Last year, the US Senate passed overwhelmingly a bipartisan reform bill that would require the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the US to wait as long as 13 years and pay a fine before becoming citizens. However, the law would immediately grant undocumented immigrants legal status, ending their fears of deportation and permitting them to work legally. In an effort to gain Republican support for the measure, the Senate bill also includes provisions for increased border security, hiring 38,000 more border control agents, extending the fence between Mexico and the US by 700 miles and establishing an electronic verification system for employers to validate the authenticity of immigration documents.
The Senate measure also creates a new worker visa programme for low-skilled workers who come to the US for seasonal employment in the agriculture industry.
Advocates for immigration reform claim the bill would be passed if House of Representatives’ speaker John Boehner were to bring it to a vote. The leadership of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has so far refused to do so. Some Republican strategists note that in 2012, President Barack Obama grabbed 71 per cent of Latino voters to his opponent’s 27 per cent. Additionally, Latinos are one of the fastest-growing demographics in the US.
“I don’t see how the [Republican] party can win national elections – nor the growing number of Latino voters – without showing leadership on immigration,” said Catholic University politics professor Matthew Green.
Mr Boehner’s difficulty is that most House Republicans oppose immigration reform and, in a mid-term election driven by low voter turnout, angering the party’s base is considered bad politics. “Immigration is a tough isue to tackle without angering key constituencies,” said Professor Green. All 200 House Democrats have pledged to support the bill and more than 25 Republicans have also indicated they would vote for the measure; 218 votes are needed for passage.