The bishops of several dioceses in the southwestern US and Mexico today released a strongly worded open letter which stresses the need for immigration reform, and a program which will reunite families divided by illegal immigration, 1200 WOAI news reports.


  "We border bishops believe that what it happening to the immigrant family in the United States is an offense against God and human conscience," San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller said in releasing the pastoral letter, called 'Family Beyond Borders.'


  The letter says that not only is immigration reform the moral course of action, it says it is a 'misperception' that most immigrants arrive in the United States largely to collect welfare benefits.  The pastoral letter says between one half and three quarters of all undocumented immigrations pay state and federal taxes, pay into Medicare and Social Security, and losing them would cost the U.S. economy nearly $9 billion a year in lost agricultural productivity alone.


  But the letter saves its strongest language for House Republicans, who are being pressured by 'Tea Party' aligned conservative groups to reject immigration reform.


  "They should no longer feel threatened with losing an election, just because they helped to make our immigration laws instruments of mercy and compassion," the Archbishop said.


  With violence along the U.S. Mexico border growing and many immigrants being preyed upon by smugglers and drug cartels and increasingly subject to sexual assault, robbery, and murder, the letter says immigration reform is now more critical than it has ever been.


  "We note especially the culture of increasing violence affecting many countries of origin, the dangers of migration itself, and the widespread poverty and unemployment especially affecting the youth from migrant families," the letter notes.


  Earlier, the bishops had released a statement declaring that 'all people have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families."


  Garcia-Siller said he agrees that immigration reform will not come up this year, but he hopes the House will vote to approve the Senate-approved bill early next year.  He said copies of the pastoral letter will be distributed to members of Congress and other government officials.