A defining moment: Our country needs to pass immigration reform Print
Written by Mary Uhler   
Thursday, Jul. 04, 2013 -- 12:00 AM

My ancestors made the journey from Ireland, Germany, and Belgium to the United States of America. They sought a better life for themselves and their families in this great land of freedom and opportunity.

My father’s family from Ireland settled in the Darlington area as farmers. However, they moved to Platteville where the children could get a better education. My father and some of his sisters attended what was then called the Platteville Normal School (now the University of Wisconsin-Platteville) and became teachers.

On my mother’s side, her German and Belgian ancestors moved to the Wisconsin “Holy Land,” the area near St. Anna and Kiel. They, too, started as farmers. My mother, too, graduated from college and joined the teaching profession. She met my father when they taught at the same school.

For these immigrant families, education was very important. So was practicing their religion. My parents both came from strong Catholic families.

Immigrants continue to arrive in the U.S.

Immigrants from many countries have continued to seek a new home in the United States. Statistics show that most of them arrive through legal channels. The Center for American Progress reports that there were 39.9 million foreign-born people living in the United States in 2010: 44 percent naturalized citizens, 24 percent permanent residents, 29 percent unauthorized migrants, and three percent temporary legal residents.

By January of 2011, there were 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., an increase of one-third since 2000.
Public opinion polls show that voters overwhelmingly reject mass deportation. Only 19 percent of voters believe  that all unauthorized immigrants should be sent back to their home country, according to a Fox News poll.

Most Americans believe in a balanced approach. Sixty-six percent of voters believe unauthorized immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country and eventually become citizens after paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check.

Bishops support immigration reform

The U.S. Catholic bishops have called upon Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. On June 20, the Wisconsin Catholic bishops asked citizens to contact their senators and representatives urging them to vote in favor of S. 744,  “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.”

“For the first time in nearly a generation, our nation has the opportunity to fix our broken immigration system into one that promotes human rights, legal behavior, family unity, and secure borders,” the state bishops said.

I heard Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the national Bishops’ Committee on Migration, speak at the recent Catholic Media Conference in Denver. He threw out his prepared talk and instead addressed the issue of immigration reform, calling it “a defining historical moment for America.”

In an impassioned plea, Archbishop Gomez said that although he is Mexican by birth and an American citizen by decision, this issue is “more than personal. For me, our national debate about immigration is a great struggle for the American spirit and the American soul. Immigration is a human rights test of our generation.”

One people from many nations

Archbishop Gomez convinced me that we must work to pass immigration reform. As we celebrate our nation’s independence on July 4, I urge concerned citizens to contact their members of Congress to support S. 744, which has passed the Senate and is moving to the House of Representatives, where it faces greater challenges.

As Archbishop Gomez said in Denver, “America’s founders dreamed of a nation where men and women from every race, religion, and national background could live in equality — as brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

“America’s founders wrote this dream down in the Declaration of Independence. . . . As a result, we’ve always been a nation of immigrants. ‘E pluribus unum.’ One people made from peoples of many nations, races, and creeds.”

Let’s work to continue that dream by welcoming immigrants today and finding a way to secure a path to citizenship for them, too.