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Immigration in the Melting Pot

Interview With the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

ROME, FEB. 27, 2007 (Zenit) - According to the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, America is a nation of immigrants that is proud of its heritage as a melting pot.

In this interview with us, Ambassador Francis Rooney discusses President George Bush's hopes for immigration reform.

Q: The U.S. government has come under strong criticism from many quarters for building a fence along some parts of the U.S.-Mexico border. Why does the government consider this to be necessary?

Rooney: President Bush is committed to the idea that America can be a lawful, economically dynamic and welcoming society. Last month in his State of the Union address, he made a bold call for comprehensive immigration reform. In October, he signed the Secure Fence Act, which will do much to ensure the safety and security of both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals who wish to legally enter the United States.

Border security is a basic responsibility of any sovereign nation. Placing a fence along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border is just one element of a multi-faceted policy to stop terrorists and criminals from entering our country, and to discourage human trafficking and narcotics smuggling.

But even more important are measures he called for to establish a more effective temporary worker program; resolve -- without animosity and without amnesty -- the status of illegal immigrants already in the U.S.; and to help immigrants assimilate into American society by offering English language training and education.

The problem of illegal immigration in America needs to be addressed by a system that is secure, orderly and fair. The comprehensive policy initiatives the president outlined in his recent State of the Union address are the best way forward.

Q: Critics of the new border restrictions argue that a border fence will force migrants to look for more dangerous ways to enter the United States. Is the government prepared to look for alternative, and more humane ways, to control its borders?

Rooney: The new border legislation will make immigration safer. With his latest proposals, President Bush is calling for an end to the illegal brand of immigration we see too often along our borders, executed under inhumane and life-threatening conditions. The president and the American people are committed to making legal immigration safe and fair for everyone.

America is increasing the number of its border patrol agents by 63%, and doubling border security funding for new infrastructure and technology; however, we remain open to those wanting to enter our country. Every year, we issue more than one million permanent residency "green cards" -- more than those issued in the rest of the world combined.

Democracies like the United States, with healthy economies and vast resources, will continue to attract individuals seeking freedom and opportunity. Those same governments must defend and exercise their right to know who is in their country and why.

Q: Has the dispute over the fence become more of a symbolic point of division, at the cost of distracting attention from more important issues?

Rooney: It's important to keep in mind that placing a fence along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border is just one element of a multifaceted policy to stop terrorists and criminals from entering the country.

The United States is a nation of immigrants, and we are proud of our great melting pot heritage. Italian immigrants were among the first to hit the shores of America starting in the late 1800s. Today more than 40 million people in the United States speak Spanish, while Chinese, Russian, German, Japanese and other languages can be heard every day in cities across our country.

America has proven to be a land of great opportunity for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who share our ideals, have an appreciation for our history, and respect our laws and the flag we fly.

Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, a top official of the Vatican's office on migrants, recently said that consideration for migrant families is a virtue with "deep roots in Christian tradition." It is also a quintessential American tradition.

Q: What can be done to regularize the status of illegal immigrants in the United States and to prevent them from abuses, particularly in the case of women and children?

Rooney: The president knows that America's immigration problem will not be solved with security measures alone. We know that there are many people on the other side of our borders who will do anything to come to America to work to build a better life, putting themselves -- and their families -- at great risk. But we can't help people we don't know are within our borders.

Comprehensive immigration reform must account for the millions of immigrants ...

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