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Tucson bishop joins clerics in Washington to push immigration reform

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WASHINGTON – Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas believes there is “still a glimmer of hope” for immigration reform this year, a message he and other bishops tried to deliver to Congress Thursday.

Kicanas joined five clerics from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to celebrate a Mass on Capitol Hill before they fanned out to meet members of the House, where immigration reform has been stalled for almost a year.

“Our hope in Washington is to press Congress to see this as something that needs attention,” Kicanas said. “The system is broken and we have the means to fix it.”

The Capitol Hill visits come two months after a group of bishops celebrated a Mass at the U.S.-Mexico border, part of several days on the border that included a trek through the desert and visits with immigrants and Border Patrol agents in Nogales.

The clerics hoped to bring the spirit of that border visit to their meetings in Washington.

“We hope that Congress will address immigration reform now, in this session, and not kick the can down the road,” said Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski at a news conference after the Mass.

With little time left before Congress’ August recess, however, and a November election looming, few think there is the time or will to pass immigration reform.

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill last June, but the House has yet to act on that bill – or on any of several immigration reform bills proposed by House members.

House Speaker John Boehner has said that the U.S. needs immigration reform. “It’s good for our country, and frankly it’s the right thing to do,” the Ohio Republican said last summer.

But he has said repeatedly that the House will not be rushed in to considering the Senate’s bill. In February, Boehner said the House would take a “step-by-step, common-sense approach to this is so we can build trust with the American people that we’re doing this the right way.”

The bishops met with Boehner Thursday, urging him to address immigration reform in the current session of Congress. The speaker’s office declined comment on the meeting, but Kicanas said it was cordial.

“Speaker Boehner was very clear in saying he does want to get this done, he does need to continue to work with his Republican caucus to find a way to address this issue in the most effective way possible, but there are challenges,” Kicanas said.

Kicanas also met with members of Arizona’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, and Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff, and Ron Barber and Raul Grijalva of Tucson.

Kirkpatrick said she thinks efforts like those of the bishops make a difference.

“The bishop is very well-versed in the economic benefits of doing this as well as the moral benefits, because lack of immigration reform is tearing families apart,” she said.

Kirkpatrick also said she believes that there are enough votes to pass immigration reform in the House if leaders would bring it up for a vote.

One of the reasons she initially ran for Congress was to pass immigration reform, she said, after being frustrated with the “piecemeal state-by-state attempts to solve the problem.”

“It has to be done at the federal level,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s disappointing to me that we have not already gotten this done.”

Kicanas said he hoped the face-to-face meetings could help get it done.

“What I’ve experienced in Arizona is that when someone meets a migrant, hears their story, listens to their struggle, it has an incredibly powerful effect on changing attitudes,” he said. “I hope today in meeting with our legislators to try to bring the face of the migrant that we have met in Arizona.”

Kicanas called the day of meetings at the Capitol “a good day, hopefully a day that will lead to some resolution to the situation.”

And Kicanas said he still believes there is time to act.

“While some may say it’s a dead issue this year, there is still a glimmer of hope,” he said.