This Guest Opinion appeared in yesterday morning’s Bucks County Courier Times from Terry Kiely, a resident of Newtown Borough.
Volunteers at emergency food pantries, soup kitchen, churches, and social service agencies may soon find themselves serving five years in prison for “assisting a non-citizen to remain in the United States.”I think the expression of “closing the door of the stable after the horse has already gotten out” (or something like that) was invented for this issue (serves me right for not growing up on a farm, I guess, or else I’d know it). I think the situation with the “illegal/undocumented/whatever” workers was worsened because companies wanted to skirt the law and deny a decent wage to people of this country. I was in a discussion about this recently, and someone said, “Yeah, but then you’d end up paying $2.79 for a half dozen apples instead of 99 cents, so…”
Section 202 of HR 4437, a bill recently passed by the House of Representatives and supported by Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick of Bucks County, would expand the definition of “smuggling” to include humanitarian aid to non-citizens. Emergency food pantries and soup kitchens depend on volunteers to survive. It would be extremely difficult for them to continue providing food assistance to families suffering from hunger with the threat of imprisonment to staff and volunteers.
In addition to the criminalization of “good works,” this bill removes due process protection to asylum seekers and refugees, including children. This bill will mandate the detention of families and other vulnerable groups along our border.
I would suggest federal money would be better spent on improving border security than to house illegal citizens, church workers, volunteers, and staff at social services agencies in federal prisons at an estimated cost of $25,000 a year per prisoner.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese, issued this statement on this immigration reform legislation currently in Congress: “Congress, with the support of President Bush, should seek to repair our broken immigration system by enacting comprehensive immigration legislation that reforms all aspects of our nation’s immigration system, not simply law enforcement. Such legislation should propose an earned legalization program for the 11 million undocumented persons in the country. Earned legalization is not amnesty because the proposal requires immigrants to work for up to six years before applying for legal permanent residency. The bill should include a temporary worker program, which would provide legal channels for migrant workers to migrate in a safe, legal, and orderly manner; and reductions in family visa backlogs, which cause family separation for up to 10 years or more. This approach offers stronger security measures because it provides an incentive for undocumented immigrants and their families to ‘come out of the shadows’ and identify themselves to government authorities.”
I cal upon Congressman Fitzpatrick to examine legislation more carefully in the future before voting to approve it and consider the teachings of his church. This bill discourages the community from reaching out and helping the least fortunate; and, those are most often children. Has it come to a point that hungry children will go without food because their families are hiding from authorities and churches cannot serve them? I am disturbed by my congressman’s vote on this punitive, costly, and ineffective legislation.
Andrew Grove, former chairman of the Intel Corporation and an immigrant to the United States, wrote in an editorial recently published in the Jan. 26 Wall Street Journal, “it scares me because it has the potential of turning neighbor against neighbor – and of changing our country into a place of fear and mistrust…As a Jewish child hiding from the Nazis in Hungary, I saw how the persecution of non-Jewish Hungarians who hid their Jewish friends or neighbors cast a wide blanket of fear over everyone. This fear led to mistrust, and mistrust led to hostility, until neighbors turned upon neighbors in order to protect themselves. Is this what we want?
“…Our country has promoted tolerance and diversity through most of its history, providing an outstanding and attractive example to others…Let’s keep America, America.”
Regardless, you can’t come to rely on these people after all of this time and then all of a sudden treat them like they’re criminals (And why now, I wonder? This question should have been settled after 9/11 as far as I’m concerned.). And you DEFINITELY can’t victimize others who try to help them either.
This issue is a long way from being settled of course, assuming that will ever happen.