He wasn’t preaching to the choir, but Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto didn’t hold back his thoughts on immigration during a 2-hour forum on the subject at Sacramento State last Wednesday.
Comprehensive immigration reform, he said, “is the most practical and efficient and viable remedy for us to be able to deal with a large undocumented population in the United States.”
Soto said that state measures like SB 54, “as good as they are, are not sustainable in the long term.”
The Catholic Church, according to Soto, has been dealing with immigration issues ever since the founding of the country.
“The anti-immigration climate has been the church’s legacy here in the United States,” said Soto, speaking at one of five immigration-related events on campus.
As a result, the church built a “formidable network of support” of hospitals, schools and social service networks because “no one would take care of immigrants.”
Soto, who has been Sacramento bishop since 2008, created the country’s first Diocese Immigrant Support Network nine years ago.
The immigration topic, said the 61-year-old bishop who was born in Inglewood, is controversial, he said, even among Catholics.
“I get hammered on that issue,” said Soto, president of the California Catholic Conference of Bishops. “There is an angry backlash.”
A local deacon also expressed the same, saying that whenever he preaches about immigration, even in a non-political method, he and the diocese get angry calls and messages.
Soto said the church’s work must continue because of “the risks that many of our immigrant families are dealing with right now.”
“We have to set the agenda,” said Soto.
The California Catholic Conference of Bishops, of which Soto serves as president, has a five-point suggestion on how to deal with the immigration reform.
▪ Provide a pathway to citizenship, just like the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. “There were parts of that bill that we did not like, but citizenship was important,” said Soto.
▪ Flaws in the judicial due process in immigrant courts must be addressed.
▪ A system that responds to the labor market must be established. “It must be a program that allows people to respond to labor demand and then be able to go back to their country,” said Soto. “It’s not a bracero program.”
▪ Progress in family visas that allow legal residents to bring in family members. “They are backed up for 10 to 12 years,” said Soto. “It’s untendable reality for families.”
▪ The issue in sending countries, economic as well as social, must be addressed. The violence in those countries forces families to flee, he said. “Parents are not acting responsible leaving their children there,” he said.
The anti-immigration climate has been the church’s legacy here in the United States.
Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto
“This has been the agenda of the American biships since the Clinton administration,” said Soto. “For 24 years we have been advocating over these five points.”
The result, he said, would be a “more humane and just immigration system, and would in turn help the country prosper.”
Soto – who described himself as “a pastor, not a political analyst – said the best chance for immigration reform since IRCA was under the last years of President George W. Bush administration.
“Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership said ‘No, we’ll get it done under a Democratic president.’ That was a reckless disregard of the realities that immigrants face. We lost an opportunity.”
Soto admitted that immigration is a complex issue, even among Latinos.
“You can put two Cubans in a room and end up with three different political opinions,” he said.
Soto said pro-immigration reform advocates need “speak above the partisan divide about why these things make sense.”
Sandra Palacios, an associate director for governmental relations for the California Catholic Conference of Bishops, is keeping track of 28 immigration-related bills in the state Legislature. Of those, the bishops support SB 54, SB 6 and SB 31, which provide protections for undocumented immigrants living in the state.
The forum was one of four immigration-related events held at Sacramento State on April 5.