Bishop's Column

ASSET: A step in the right direction

The name and other details of the woman described in the column below have been changed to protect her identity.

Carmela is a friend of mine; a young Catholic who lives in the western part of our archdiocese. Carmela lives her faith with joy - a kind of radiance that attracts people to the Church and to Jesus Christ. She did very well in high school and is involved in the life of her community and her Church. She wants to become a religious sister and I really think she has a vocation to consecrated life. Carmela is a model Coloradan and a model American citizen.

Except that Carmela is not an American citizen.

Her parents came to this country when Carmela was small. They came looking for work and when their temporary visas ran out, they stayed. They worked hard and raised a family in the Church. They lived illegally in the United States and when Carmela turned 18, she decided to stay with her family here.

Illegal immigration is dangerous - and wrong. Governments have a legitimate interest in securing their borders and in knowing who enters their country. As Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., said in 2009: "The Catholic Church respects the law, including immigration law. We respect those men and women who have the difficult job of enforcing it. We do not encourage or help anyone to break the law. We believe Americans have a right to solvent public institutions, secure borders and orderly regulation of immigration."

Nevertheless, there are hundreds of thousands of people living illegally in the United States who are employed to clean our homes and hotels, to harvest our produce, and to build our roads and houses. The need for immigrants to sustain the American economic system is clear. The United States has a vested interest in comprehensive immigration reform, which recognizes the need for security, the dignity of the human person and the sovereignty of the family.

Until that happens, undocumented immigrants will exist in a dangerous limbo. Undocumented immigrants live and work in this country, providing real value, without being able to freely contribute all of their gifts, or fully benefit, from much in the United States. As Jesuit Father Michael Sheeran, president of Regis University, recently reflected, "A great threat to political stability is the creation of an excluded class in a society, an underclass where people of talent are denied the opportunity to develop their talent, reach personal economic prosperity and thereby contribute to the greater community."

The Colorado ASSET bill works to mollify that problem. ASSET provides reduced tuition rates at state colleges and universities for young, bright, undocumented immigrants who have graduated from Colorado high schools and spent three years studying in them. It also requires these students to seek regularization of their immigration status. The tuition costs are still more than in-state rates - and the program costs taxpayers nothing.

ASSET recognizes the dignity of young people who, through no fault of their own, live illegally in Colorado - where they’ve worked hard in school. It allows people like my friend Carmela to become qualified leaders in their own communities - and to contribute to the common cultural, social and economic good in Colorado. Further, it allows people like my friend Carmela to prepare for their God-given vocation - in this case, a religious life spent serving the Church. ASSET begins to solve, through education and opportunity, the dangerous consequences of illegal immigration.

ASSET will not be enough to solve the immigration problems in our country. They require serious thought and careful planning for a comprehensive reform. But ASSET will help - education, on all sides, is always the best way to begin to solve a problem.

Please join me in contacting our state representatives and asking them to support Colorado ASSET.

Most Rev. James D. Conley, S.T.L., is Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver.

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