The message was clear: We want immigration reform, and we want it now.
The call was delivered in force Wednesday afternoon by about 75 people who gathered outside U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill’s Westport office, Pennsylvania Avenue and Archibald Street. The people sang, prayed and listened to speeches before a handful went inside the office and presented more than 2,000 signatures to a McCaskill representative.
Bishop Robert Finn of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph told the crowd that, to be successful, immigration reform should be a federal initiative. Finn said state and local governments could not get the job done because elected representatives of those jurisdictions tended to be too easily swayed by emotionally driven protests.
“It has to happen at the federal level,” Finn said, “so it can be applied fairly and evenly nationwide.”
The activists support a bill that was introduced in Congress last year. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would provide, among other things, a path to U.S. citizenship for some immigrants. The first step toward becoming a legal resident would be for the individual to enroll in some type of higher education, such as a university, vocational school or apprenticeship program. Another option would be to enroll in the U.S. military.
If certain requirements were met, the individual could apply for conditional residency. Then, after receiving an associate degree or a two-year equivalent within six years of the initial petition, the conditional status could be changed, allowing the individual to become a legal, permanent resident.
To be eligible for permanent residency under the DREAM Act, the individual would have to have entered the U.S. before turning 16 and to have been in the country for at least five years without interruption. He or she also must be able to speak English.
The reform measures that he and others support, Finn said, would “protect the integrity and unity of families.”
Finn’s position on immigration stands in curious contrast to his stance on another “social justice” issue — health care reform. Last year, Finn and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas issued a “pastoral statement,” which, while not forthrightly opposing the bill that was working its way through Congress, took a very circumspect view of health care reform.
“The right of every individual to access health care does not necessarily suppose an obligation on the part of the government to provide it,” the bishops’ statement said.
Many observers believed the two bishops’ position was rooted in concerns that the legislation might loosen the prohibition on federal funds being be spent on abortions.
Finn’s and Naumann’s position on health care reform was at odds with statements from other Catholic leaders, including the U.S. Conference of Bishops. A spokeswoman for the conference of bishops told The Star, “Our position is that we are supportive of health care reform that affirms life and dignity of all people, and that health care is a right that should be available to everyone.”
The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was represented at Wednesday’s event. Organizations that sent representatives included Communities Creating Opportunity, Metropolitan Organization for Racial Equality, Immigrant Justice and Advocacy Movement and El Centro Inc.
Some of the same organizations — and people — plan to hold a similar event today in St. Joseph at the office of U.S. Rep. Sam Graves. Graves is a Republican; McCaskill is a Democrat.