The United States risks becoming a nation that “does not value or respect the truth” unless a disconnect between current immigration laws and the reality of American life is mended, Yakima Diocese Bishop Joseph Tyson said Thursday.

Speaking to more than 100 agriculture employers at the Washington Farm Labor Association state conference, Tyson made a religious and philosophical appeal for reforming guest worker programs as well as providing a path to citizenship to illegal workers.

“As a nation, we cannot accept the toil and taxes of our undocumented brothers and sisters without offering them the protection of the law,” Tyson said to some applause. “We cannot scapegoat them, separate their families, and subject them to exploitation at the same time they pick and cook our food, take care of our children, clean our homes and care for our elderly.”

Tyson, who was born in Moses Lake and has described himself as the grandson of a union organizer, said there is a broad cross-section of “stakeholders” in the immigration debate nationally, but that a frank conversation must begin locally.

“If we do not start a neighbor-to-neighbor conversation with each other on immigration reform, it becomes very hard for our elected public officials to carry our desires into good legislation,” Tyson said.

Quoting philosophers from John Locke to St. Thomas Aquinas, Tyson said immigration reform belongs in the context of defining the “common good.” He said the elimination of conflicting immigration and employment laws that can make employers simultaneously guilty of either discrimination or negligence in checking employees’ documentation would be a step toward that concept.

“In the same way you walk a fine line between an audit for not correctly verifying an I-9 and a discrimination lawsuit for challenging an I-9, many of us religious employers walk a very fine line with the R1,” Tyson said, comparing employer-required legal work eligibility forms to the visa required for visiting missionary clergy.

Tyson said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorses five principles surrounding immigration reform, among them that individuals have a right to economic opportunities in their homeland but also to migrate to support themselves and their families.

“People have a right not to immigrate,” Tyson said. “(We) want to urge leadership to begin to look at the underlying causes of migration between our two countries.”

Tyson said investment in the political and economic stability of Mexico and other parts of Latin America helps that cause.

Nations also have a right to protect their borders, Tyson said, but refugees and asylum seekers should also be protected. Even if they are undocumented, migrants deserve respect and the protection of their human rights, Tyson said.

“The principle suggests that no country should erect such high barriers that those in dire danger cannot find safety and asylum,” he said.

Tyson said there are numerous members of parishes in the Yakima Diocese suffering unnecessary uncertainty because of circumstances beyond their control abroad and political gridlock.

“For all of them, the Catholic Church is often their only support of faith and the only place where they do not live in the shadows,” Tyson said.

He said he hopes that relationship will allow the Catholic Church to provide input on the future of reform that will be humane and substantive.

“None of us need be strangers or sojourners,” Tyson said. “Why? Because in this great country of ours, we have a parallel vision in our nation’s motto: ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ which is to say, ‘From the many One.’”

Mike Faulk can be reached at 509-577-7675 or mfaulk@yakimaherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mike_Faulk.

This report has been corrected to say Bishop Tyson is grandson of a union organizer.