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Immigration - Where to now?

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The gang of eight in the U.S. Senate took a major step forward, despite scenarios that doomed prospects of a bipartisan push to overhaul immigration laws this year. On Monday, June 24, the immigration reform bill added amendments around border security and enforcement measures, securing enough votes to prevent any filibuster. Then before the end of that week the full bill was taken up on the Senate floor, with 100 Senators seated in their chairs --- a move reserved for historic votes. The new provisions were enough to entice Senators to support the final version of the bill, which passed on a 68-32 vote.

Attention will now move to the House of Representatives, where members are debating how to grapple with the issue – most likely, by crafting their own bill instead of taking up the Senate version.

Univision's Sunday weekly TV show Al Punto, recently aired a one-hour special on immigration reform, interviewing advocacy groups, four congressional Democrats and Republican Jeff Flake from Arizona. Moderated by TV news anchor, journalist and author Jorge Ramos, the political show took a deep and honest look at all sides of the debate, and added well integrated and pithy questions about the connection of Obamacare to immigration reform. I was somewhat caught by surprise and admiringly approved that Ramos didn't skirt the tough questions and did not shy away from asking Members of Congress, from example, how could they be sure that we would not be having this national debate again in 20 years.

Two of the interviewees on the show were Clarissa Martinez, national campaign director for NCLR, and Arturo Vargas from NALEO (National Association of Latino Elected Officials). Clarissa was born and raised in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, moving to California with her family and persevering to attend prestigious schools and Harvard's School of Government. In the early 2000s, she worked alongside the California Catholic Conference and other faith-based groups on issues around public education and immigration. It made a lot of connections for me because Clarissa, along with myself and other leaders, attended and presented many years ago at the University of Notre Dame for the third nationwide conference Raíces y Alas put on by the National Catholic Council of Hispanic Ministry. I recall insightful and stimulating conversation during lunch breaks with her and theology professor Timothy Matovina, among others. Professor Matovina is currently directing the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and is also the executive director of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies.

Partly sponsored by The California Endowment, the program aired media spots in English from their "Health Happens Here" campaign, employing a tag line that is the most effective play on words that we have seen to date, connecting immigration reform to the need to cover the newly legalized with health insurance: "...[B]ecause health happens when we dream together." This tag line is an obvious allusion to the DREAM Act and the action finally taken by Barack Obama to defer any deportation for those under 30 who came here through no fault of their own and have successfully completed high school.

Spanning efforts dating back to 2005 and decades earlier, U.S. Catholics in California and the Southwest embroiled in immigration reform, have acted and waited patiently for the day that we will see reform pass. We are thus reminded of believers and eminently decent people like Jose Robles, who for 16 years directed the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Phoenix, and toiled behind the scenes to improve the lot of Latino immigrants. Robles succumbed to cancer in the last month. In honor of his memory, let us hope that comprehensive immigration reform will be finally attained and celebrated.

The Gang of Eight includes: U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet, D-CO; Dick Durbin, D-IL; Jeff Flake, R-AZ; Lindsey Graham, R-SC; Bob Menendez, D-NJ; John McCain, R-AZ; Marco Rubio, R-FL; and Chuck Schumer, D-NY.