Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Immigration Controls Tightened (Australia)

Over the objection of the Australian Catholic bishops, the nation’s Parliament passed legislation making more difficult for immigrants to receive citizenship.

Earlier before the Feb. 26 Parliament vote, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference Commission for Pastoral Life released a statement that said, while the government’s proposed changes were a recognition of the importance of the citizenship process, they will work to limit those who deserve to be full members of the society with all of the rights that go with it.

In a major revamping of current nationality and citizenship regulations, the legislation, which passed the Senate in the evening of Feb. 26 after the House of Representatives approved it in November, was a response to heightened concerns over security.

Among its provision are: migrants will be required to spend four rather than two years in Australia before being eligible for citizenship: raises the age for exemption to having to pass a compenitency test in English from 50 to 60 years of age; and allows the Australian Security and Intelligence Organization to be able to veto a person's citizenship application if it deems that person to be a direct or indirect security risk.

“We agree wholeheartedly with the government that it is very important for those seeking citizenship to be helped to appreciate the significance of the step that they are taking,” said Bishop Joseph Grech, the bishops’ chief delegate for immigration issues.

“It is also important that prospective citizens have a sound grasp of the language and some of the basic heritage and values of their new nation.”

Yet the bishops said they were concerned that forcing citizenship applicants to undergo a formal test of language and values would hinder rather than enhance the process.

“A formal test would be particularly difficult for some older people and for many whose first language is not English,” Bishop Grech said. “An unfortunate consequence of this confrontational approach is that some people could be discouraged from even attempting to seek citizenship.”

A test, he noted, would not necessarily show that a prospective citizen had taken Australian values into their life, merely that they had learnt the required responses.

An alternative approach, he added, would be to make greater efforts to impart an appreciation and knowledge of the English language and Australian values from the beginning of the migration process. “This could even be through the undertaking of a formal course, but without a confronting and possibly alienating test,” Bishop Grech said.

In a Jan. 14 St. Peter’s Square address before praying the midday Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI said that millions of the world’s migrants should never be seen just as a problem, but rather a great resource for the continuing progress of the human family.

Pope Benedict stressed that the international community must place the dignity of the human person at the center of any migration policy or action. “The reality of migrations must never be seen just as a problem, but also and, above all, as a great resource for humanity's progress,” he said.

The pope's remarks followed up upon the second World Day for Migrants and Refugees message of his pontificate, entitled "The Migrant Family," which was dated Oct. 18 and released Nov. 14.

As he did in his message for the day, the pope used the Angelus message to point to the Holy Family’s flight from persecution into Egypt as reflective of “the image of God, guarded in the heart of every human family, even when it is weakened and at times disfigured by life’s trials.”

“In the drama of the family of Nazareth,” the pope said, “we can perceive the painful condition of so many migrants, especially refugees, the exiled, the displaced and the persecuted.”

Pointing to “the difficult conditions of life, the humiliations, inconveniences and fragility” faced by today’s migrant families, Pope Benedict said that the international community has a responsibility to be respect immigrants as an important resource in building society.

The pontiff called for “legislative, juridical and administrative protections” or migrants and their families as well as a nexus of pastoral and social services for them.

“The migrant family is,” he said, “a resource, if it is respected as such.”

The pope said that in the field of immigration, the human person must always be placed at the center.”

“The just integration of families in social, economic and political systems is only achieved on one hand, by respecting the dignity of all immigrants and, on the other hand, by immigrants recognizing the values of the host society,” he said.

In his November-released message for the 2007 annual observance of World Day for Migrants and Refugees, the pope said that the world community must work to better guarantee the rights migrant families who face hardships, humiliations, deprivation and persecution and urged the ratification of international conventions and policies that defend all migrants, including refugees, exiles, evacuees and internally displaced people.

“The church encourages the ratification of the international legal instruments that aim to defend the rights of migrants, refugees and their families,” the pope said. “Much is already being done for the integration of the families of immigrants, although much still remains to be done.”

If the migrant family cannot ensure “a real possibility of inclusion,” its healthy development is threatened, the pope said.



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