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 I am Bishop Gerald Kicanas, bishop of Tucson, AZ, and former chairman of the board for Catholic Relief Services.  My diocese extends along the entire border between Arizona and Mexico. Today I represent the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

I would like to thank Subcommittee chairman Trey Gowdy and ranking member Zoe Lofgren for having me here to testify today.

Before I begin I would like to remember Kayla Mueller, the young woman who is from Arizona and recently died while in captivity in the Middle East.   Kayla, who dedicated her life to the service of others, represents the best of our country’s values.  She spent her life and lost her life in attempting to help the most vulnerable here and overseas.  She felt the pain and suffering of others and responded. We might learn from the example of our fellow American.

Mr. Chairman, I was last with you in 2010, when I testified on the subject of the ethical imperative for comprehensive immigration reform.   Since that time, the U.S. Catholic bishops and the Catholic community has not wavered on their commitment to comprehensive immigration reform. 

Mr. Chairman, my written testimony details all of the specifics of what should be part of comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a path to citizenship for the undocumented in our nation.

I would like to address my remarks today to the three bills before the subcommittee and explain, in general terms, our opposition to them. 

First, all of the bills adversely impact immigrant and refugee children, perhaps the most vulnerable population impacted by our nation’s immigration laws.  Among other things, these bills would 1) repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, would repeal protections for children fleeing violence in Central America, would keep children in detention for long periods of time, and would weaken protections for abandoned, neglected, and abused children.

Mr. Chairman, our country is judged by how we treat the most vulnerable and the removal of protections from children—the most vulnerable---flies against human decency and violates human dignity.  It would undermine our credibility as a global leader in defense of human rights.  We should not punish these children, who themselves are innocent and are only seeking opportunity and safety.

Mr. Chairman, my brother bishop from El Paso, TX, Bishop Mark Seitz, testified before the House Judiciary Committee last year and explained that he had spoken with a mother in El Salvador who explained the tough decisions faced by parents of children experiencing persecution at home.  Bishop Seitz asked her why she would let her child make the journey north if she knew it was so dangerous.   She responded:  Bishop, I would rather my child die on the journey seeking safety in the United States than on my front doorstep.  To use an analogy, Mr. Chairman, the removal of due process from these children seeking safety, as these bills would do, is like a fireman showing up at a burning building and locking the doors.  This would be contrary to our values as a Nation and contrary to our moral authority as a Nation that has a historic commitment to refugee protection.

Second, these bills, specifically the “Secure and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act” would, among other things, criminalize undocumented presence and those who transport undocumented persons to assist their well-being.

Mr. Chairman, Congress has debated this issue before, when the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4437—the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005--- in December, 2005.  That legislation, which had similar provisions and died in the U.S. Senate, sparked protests across the country.  As a nation, do we want to take the country down this road again?  Do we want to criminalize millions of persons who have built equities in this country, jail them, and separate their families, including those with U.S.-citizen children?   Instead of fixing a broken system, would we rather jail nuns and other Good Samaritans who are simply coming to the aid of their fellow human beings, consistent with their faith?

Moreover, by allowing states and localities to create their own immigration enforcement laws, and to enforce them, the SAFE Act would create a patchwork of immigration laws across the nation, making the system more disjointed and unjust. This would distract state and local law enforcement from their main duty of protecting the public from criminal acts and could lead to civil rights abuses against immigrants and U.S. citizens alike.

Third, the bills would severely weaken our asylum and refugee protection system, ensuring that vulnerable groups are sent back to their persecutors, against our heritage as a safe haven for the world’s oppressed.  It would raise the standard for meeting the credible fear standard for the persecuted to obtain asylum status.  It also would repeal the use of parole in place, thus resulting in more family separation.

Mr. Chairman, we believe these bills would not fix our immigration system.  Rather, they would make it less just and would undermine our moral authority domestically and globally.

Mr. Chairman, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the people of the faith community, and the majority of Americans were disappointed that comprehensive immigration reform legislation was not passed in the 113th Congress. You have the opportunity again to fix our broken system by passing such legislation—in a series of bills or in one--in the 114th Congress.   We stand ready to work with you toward this goal.

Thank you for your attention.