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Washington priest voices support for immigrant family reunification


Expressing support for immigrant family reunification at Capitol Hill news conference, the Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, rector of St. John’s Lafayette Square Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., spoke in favor of a proposed amendment authored by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007.

The Senators’ amendment would remove barriers to reunification for the nuclear families of lawful permanent residents.

“The Episcopal Church’s 2006 legislative body, General Convention, expressed strong support for comprehensive immigration legislation and regarded family unity as an imperative of any reformed system,” stated Leon. “Sadly, the Senate compromise legislation includes provisions that devalue family sponsored immigration.” The Clinton-Hagel-Menendez amendment would reclassify the spouses and minor children of lawful permanent immigrants as “immediate relatives,” thereby exempting them from the visa caps.

Due to visa backlogs, the current wait time is between five to 10 years for more than one million spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents. The Clinton-Menendez-Hagel amendment would help clear this backlog and allow for more expeditious reunification with members of their nuclear family.

“This amendment is about fundamental fairness. The families of legal permanent residents of this country who are playing by the rules should not be penalized because our current immigration system is paralyzed with backlogs,” said Senator Hagel in a prepared statement. An Episcopalian, Hagel worships at St. John’s Lafayette Square when in Washington.

In her remarks at the news conference, Clinton said: “The United States is a country built by immigrants, but our laws are tearing legal immigrant families apart. Hundreds of thousands of lawful permanent residents have been waiting for years to be reunited with their spouses and children due to visa backlogs. These are taxpaying, law-abiding residents. These are people who otherwise would be admitted into this country, but they are forced to wait because of a tragic numbers game. It is unconscionable that they are being forced to choose between their family and their newly adopted country.”

Others participating in the press conference were: Ralston Deffenbaugh, president, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Karen Narasaki, president of Asian American Justice Center; Cecilia Munoz, vice president, National Council of La Raza; Frank Sherry, executive director, National Immigration Forum; Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby; Kevin Appleby, director for Migration and Refugee Policy, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Eric Gutierrez, legislative staff attorney, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Lisalyn Jacobs, policy director, Legal Momentum.

-- Molly Keane is the Immigration Policy assistant in the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations.


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