A March 25 Catholic News Service article covered a March 21 conference titled "The Catholic Church and Immigration: Pastoral, Policy and Social Perspectives" held at The Catholic University of America. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan were two of the speakers. The conference was sponsored by CUA's Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies and the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops. See the article below.

From: Catholic News Service Date: March 25, 2011 Author: Patricia Zapor WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Though their diplomatic portfolio includes the U.S. and Mexico being each others' major trade partner, as well as such concerns as narco-trafficking, environmental challenges and energy sources, "there is no more important issue that will define the U.S-Mexico future relationship than getting immigration reform right," according to Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan.

Speaking to an audience at The Catholic University of America March 21 that included at least a half dozen U.S. bishops and people involved in church and government policy work, Sarukhan said no other issues will affect the direction of U.S.-Mexico relations like U.S. immigration reform.

At the same session, concluding a daylong conference on immigration, Archbishop Rafael Romo Munoz of Tijuana, Mexico, pointed to joint efforts by Mexican and U.S. bishops that call for new employment opportunities in Mexico and improved treatment of migrants in both countries as a template for action by the two governments.

"The human costs, the suffering of our brother and sister migrants is very high, we witness this with pain," Archbishop Romo said, noting that in 2003 the two bishops' conferences issued a joint pastoral letter, "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope." It outlined governmental and pastoral goals and steps to address the pressures leading to and resulting from emigration and problems faced by immigrants in their new lands.

"Our task continues to be to ensure that the migration policies of our countries deal with the different stages of the migration process and offer more timely solutions that respect human dignity and safeguard human rights," said the archbishop.

Also at the session, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez summarized the root causes of the complex migration problems, explained the Catholic Church's teachings on the issue and repeated suggestions he has made in several venues recently for how to tackle the policy and legal challenges of fixing the problems.

In his remarks, Sarukhan, a career diplomat in his fourth year as ambassador to the U.S., said that international and domestic issues for Mexico and the United States have become so entwined that they form a relationship he described as "intermestic," merging the words international and domestic. "There is no longer a distinction between foreign policy and domestic policy."

For its part in dealing with the exodus of its able-bodied, entrepreneurial workers to the United States, Sarukhan said Mexico has made great strides in creating new jobs at home -- showing a 5.2 percent economic growth rate last year, for example -- but has a long way to go to keep home the 300,000 people who cross the U.S. border to look for work every year.

"The loss for Mexico is a gain for the U.S. of talented, entrepreneurial people," he said, adding that if Mexico can't hang onto its people, its economy won't grow. Reforming the U.S. immigration system to take the estimated 11 million undocumented workers out of the shadows and enabling Mexican laborers to more easily circulate between their homes and U.S. jobs is an important step, he said.

In a later interview with Catholic News Service, Archbishop Romo said more jobs are being created in Mexico, but that there is still a long way to go to handle the need.

Especially in his diocese, Archbishop Romo said technology jobs are on the upswing, after a period when tech companies were shifting their work to Asia. But he said the growth is far from enough to make a difference in the pressures that lead poor people to try to get into the United States to look for work.

Sarukhan explained that part of the pressure on Mexico comes because circular migration has essentially stopped, referring to how Mexican workers spend some months at low-wage jobs in the U.S. before returning home to stay for the balance of the year or a few years until pressure builds to earn more money abroad. For generations, whether they entered the U.S. legally or illegally, workers would spend a short time north of the border, make some money and return home to their families.

But with only 5,000 visas for a market of unskilled laborers estimated at 60 to 100 times that number, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and other primarily Latin American migrants still cross illegally in search of jobs each year, despite stricter U.S. border enforcement in the last decade and the spiraling cost of paying a human smuggler.

"It's now taking seven, eight nine attempts to cross, and they're paying $3,000 to $7,000 (to a smuggler)," Sarukhan said. "Once they're on this side, the incentives to go back home disappear."

Both countries need to make sure everyone who crosses the border does it legally, at a port of entry and with a passport, he said.

But giving those 11 million undocumented residents the chance to "come out of the shadows" and earn a legal status that allows them to return to their countries on their own, when they're ready, should be a part of U.S. immigration reform, said Sarukhan.

Though it's a small program with just 40,000 jobs, Sarukhan said a migrant farmworker program with Canada is a successful model of how some of the two countries' employment needs can be met. Participants are well paid, travel safely, with visas, and return home each year when the labor contract ends, he explained.

For its part, Sarukhan said Mexico has made some progress in how it treats migrants who cross from countries to the south, decriminalizing the act of being in the country without permission, and making progress in prosecuting corruption and other problems faced by migrants.

Archbishop Romo made note of one of those changes -- legislation promoted by the Mexican bishops' conference and approved by the Mexican Senate recently that would require approval by the government's National Migration Institute to arrest people on immigration charges. He said he hoped the measure law would be an example to the U.S. of an integrated policy that decriminalizes the act of migration.

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Copyright © 2011 Catholic News Service www.CatholicNews.com Reprinted with permission of CNS

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