Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of the Diocese of Phoenix.
Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of the Diocese of Phoenix.

TEMPE — Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares joined top local and national immigration experts in an immigration reform debate Dec. 14 at Rio Salado College.

The forum took on several aspects of reform included in the U.S. Senate Bill 744. The objective of the Oxford-style debate, which featured two panelists from either side of the issue, was to find middle ground.

“If it were a reasonable time for people to receive their visas, then they would do that,” the bishop said, citing estimates that most immigrants wait more than 10 years for a visa. “Sometimes they have urgent medical or economic needs that can’t wait for 10 years.”

The bishop, who was born in Texas, asked the few dozen gathered: “What would we do if we were born on the other side of that river?”

Families are also being separated by current immigration policy, the bishop said.

“This is a hard question, on trying to separate parents from families,” said Jan Ting of Temple University in Philadelphia. “We aren’t separating families from children. They will always be American citizens.”

It is up to the parents whether or not they want to keep the families together or separate, Ting said. But Bishop Nevares disagreed.

“They don’t want to bring their children back into poverty in Mexico,” he said. “That’s why they came here in the first place. It’s absolutely imperative that we do something for the 8 million living and working here in unacceptable conditions.”

The bishop said the United States was speaking out of two sides of the same mouth. “We say ‘get out’ and then also ‘let them in’ —because we need the labor.”

Ting countered, saying that the United States had one of the most generous immigration systems in the world and that it was a “scandal” and “outrageous” that so many Americans were unemployed while undocumented immigrants had jobs.

Ting did say the immigration system needed to be reformed so that Mexicans didn’t have to wait in a “longer line.”

“There are needy people everywhere,” he said. “We need to prioritize immigration options for our suffering neighbors.”

Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA, said immigration reform was about “fixing the legal immigration system so that it works for America in the future.” To do that requires letting in immigrants that are needed while ending illegal immigration.

“The best antidote to illegal immigration is a legal immigration system,” she said, “meeting unmet U.S. labor needs with lawful foreign workers and replacing the current unauthorized influx with a legal workforce.”