Monday, September 24, 2007
Bishop advocates in Washington for undocumented students, refugees for Dream act.
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., advocated on behalf of undocumented students hoping to attend college and people seeking refugee status or asylum in separate appearances Sept. 19 in Washington.
In a statement at the National Press Club, Bishop Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Policy and a consultant to their Committee on Migration, urged quick passage of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, known as the DREAM Act.
He called on elected officials to "resist the voices of dissension and fear this time and vote for the DREAM Act," which would allow young adults who are in the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own to attend college at in-state tuition rates and to become permanent residents.
Later that day, Bishop Wenski told a Senate subcommittee that Congress must correct the unintended consequences of recent changes in immigration law language relating to the issue of "material support." Provisions of the USA Patriot Act and Real ID Act bar anyone who has provided "material support" to "terrorist organizations" from entering the United States.
By criminalizing broadly defined "material support," the laws prohibit the admission of people who have, even under coercion, provided any kind of financial, physical and material aid to members of a wide range of organizations involved in armed resistance to any national government, including pro-democracy groups.
In his National Press Club talk, Bishop Wenski said the Catholic Church, "as a provider of education to thousands of children and young adults nationwide, ... has witnessed the suffering of young persons who through no fault of their own reside in an undocumented status and are denied access to legal status in this country and an opportunity to continue their education."
The DREAM Act, he said, "would give these young people an opportunity to meet their potential and to fully contribute to our society. This is not only good for them but good for our country."
Bishop Wenski also challenged the assertion that the legislation would provide an amnesty.
"These children are in an undocumented status not because of their own choice or decision," but because they were dependent on their parents, he said.
"Should we forsake these young people because we lack the political will and courage to provide them a just remedy?" the bishop asked. "By investing in these young people, our nation will receive the benefits for years to come. It is also the right and moral thing to do."
Addressing the Human Rights and Law Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the afternoon, Bishop Wenski cited particular cases of vulnerable refugees who have been unable to enter the United States because of the "material support" bar.
They include a Somali woman whose husband and daughter were killed in front of her and who later paid a ransom to have her kidnapped son released; a Sierra Leonean man who was forced to fix rebels' cars to protect his family; and a Colombian youth forced to dig graves by a paramilitary group.
"Congress must direct this administration, as well as future ones, with clear and unambiguous language regarding the 'material support' bar," the bishop said. "Such language should include a removal of the bar if an individual provides support to a terrorist group under duress," including the threat of death.
Bishop Wenski said that although the bishops applaud Congress' role in protecting the U.S. public from outside threats "we can rescue bona fide refugees from persecution without inhibiting our ability to prevent terrorist attacks."
"The issue of 'material support' has seriously undermined the effectiveness of the U.S. refugee protection regime in offering safe haven to those who flee terror and persecution in this world," he said. "We need not shrink from our responsibilities to the world refugees in order to obtain security for the American people."
The Catholic Church, through its Migration and Refugee Services, assists an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 refugees each year and is the largest agency resettling refugees in the United States.