VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis threw his support behind proposed legislation aimed at better integrating migrants into Italian society and the workforce, intervening Wednesday in a broader debate over immigration and citizenship that has consumed national politics in recent weeks.
Francis noted during his general audience that he had met with refugees this week as the U.N. marked world refugee day. The pope, who has prioritized the plight of refugees in his four-year papacy, said he wanted to voice his appreciation for a campaign backed by Italy's Radical Party to overhaul the country's restrictive migration policy and regularize those who are here illegally.
Francis stopped short, however, of backing a separate and divisive government-backed proposal to grant citizenship to children of migrants born or educated here. Currently, these children can apply for citizenship only in their 18th year — a restriction that critics say hampers their full integration into Italian society.
The anti-immigrant Northern League and a smaller, right-wing party have opposed the proposed legislation, which cleared the lower Chamber of Deputies in 2015 but remains stuck in the Senate, where the League has proposed thousands of amendments.
Earlier this week, a top Vatican official, Monsignor Angelo Becciu, voiced support for the proposed law, saying that while the decision rested with the Italian parliament "it's clear that we want the dignity of people who arrive in our country to be respected, and that those who are born her to be recognized as citizens."
Italy's bishops have also come out in favor.
Former Premier Matteo Renzi, the Democratic Party's candidate for premier in upcoming national elections, said in a blog post Wednesday that the debate at this point is purely ideological, and that the question isn't about giving away citizenship but merely "anticipating it by recognizing a reality that already exists."