Immigration reform was all but dead. As the debate on health care reform kicked into high gear this summer and early fall, immigration disappeared from the political debate. But if reform of one broken system (immigration) moved off legislators’ dockets in favor of another (health care), the United States bishops brought the issues together last week. In a letter to U.S. senators co-authored by Cardinal Rigali, three bishops representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for justice for the unborn, the poor and the immigrant in health reform legislation.

It was not the first time nor will it be the last that Catholic bishops state publicly the Church’s opposition to public abortion funding and mandated abortion coverage, and her insistence that conscience protections for health care workers be included in a final reform bill.

At the same time the bishops called for justice for immigrants, including provisions to “safeguard the health of immigrants, their children and all of society.” Various proposals call for access to health care for documented and undocumented people, especially pregnant women.

Finally, the bishops called for a system that offers poor people affordable health care, which they called “not a privilege, but a right.”

Comprehensive immigration reform might not be accomplished this year or even next, but it cannot be forgotten. The Church in the United States keeps the issue in the public mind because she cares for the people of God in this country – all people, regardless of race, creed or origin – both in spirit and in body. It is a matter of justice for all people, part of the mission of the Church to safeguard human life and dignity, the precious gifts of God.

Health care reform concerns the rich and the poor, the sick and those in good health today; those with medical coverage and those without; those who speak forcefully on this issue and especially those without a voice – the innocent and defenseless.

It remains unclear as of this writing what shape health reform legislation will take, if it happens at all. The Church never fails to remind policy makers to respect human life and dignity by crafting a plan that protects unborn life and cares for the health of the immigrant and the poor.

“Health care choices are not just political, technical or economic, but also moral,” the bishops told the senators. Congress must be sure that a final bill truly reforms health care by reflecting a vision of justice for all that the Church consistently communicates to society.