Utah's top Roman Catholic leader joined a New York colleague Wednesday in launching a nationwide campaign urging Catholics to press for comprehensive immigration reform this year.
"We believe it is the most practical and humane solution," said the Rev. John C. Wester, bishop of Salt Lake City's diocese. "We say this has to be done."
Utah activist Tony Yapias applauded the move and said he and other Latino leaders call on the Beehive State's predominant faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to weigh in on immigration.
"For too long, they have stayed quiet," said Yapias, who is LDS. "They have skirted around the issue without taking a position. If they believe this is a moral issue, they have a responsibility to have a position."
A spokesman for the LDS Church did not return a phone call Wednesday evening seeking comment.
Wester, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration Committee, was joined in Wednesday's telephone news conference by the Rev. Howard Hubbard, bishop of Albany, N.Y., and chairman of the U.S. bishops' International Policy Committee.
Nuns in Cleveland and Philadelphia who work with immigrants also spoke of the imperative of American Catholics, whose heritage is rooted in immigration, to get behind reform efforts.
"In the end, to stand with those who are frightened, alone or in danger; to educate, to speak with and for, and to pray -- this is the message of the gospel and the work of the church," said Sister Rita Mary Harwood, an executive in the Cleveland diocese.
Eli Cawley, chairman of the board for the Utah Minuteman Project, called the Catholic bishops "compassion mongers," who actually harm immigrants by inciting a backlash from law-abiding Americans.
"People are getting so fed up," Cawley said, "with the lenience and benefits for illegal aliens."
There is no need for reform, he said. "The system is not broken. It's just that the laws have not been enforced."
J. Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs for the Catholic bishops' conference, said the campaign is designed to hold President Barack Obama to his promise to tackle the dicey immigration issue this year.
Wester applauded a measure introduced last month by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., and co-signed by 90 of his House colleagues and said he expects legislation in the Senate as well.
"I would say from some of the signals, the administration and Congress are ready to tackle this issue," Wester said.
Americans want a "humane and comprehensive" solution to the problems plaguing the immigration system, Wester said. "They want our Congress to address this situation and address it now."
The Catholic Church does not condone illegal immigration, but believes scripture and the faith's social teaching demand it stand by those marginalized in a broken system.
Wester said the bishops want five key reforms: a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States; better treatment of immigrant families; legal avenues for migrant workers; protection of immigrants' due-process rights; and examination of the root causes of migration (usually poverty).
The Utah bishop launched a writing campaign Wednesday that already has taken orders for 1.5 million postcards from Catholic dioceses and parishes throughout the country. Those are to be sent to Congress, urging reform.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz said he welcomes the Catholic bishops' advocacy and looks forward to hearing their arguments.
While there is "universal support" for immigration reform in Congress, the Utah Republican predicted the "details will make all the difference."
Chaffetz said he will not support any legislation that grants amnesty or citizenship to those in the country illegally. "It's a non-starter, no ands, ifs or buts."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say immigration reform must:
» Provide a pathway toward citizenship for those in the country illegally.
» Improve how immigrant families are treated.
» Create ways migrants can work in the United States.
» Protect immigrants' due-process rights.
» Address root causes of migration, primarily poverty.
Two Web sites explain the Catholic position and provide resources for Catholics and others interested in the issue. They are http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org" Target="_BLANK">http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org and http://tinyurl.com/ykjwh36" Target="_BLANK">http://tinyurl.com/ykjwh36