Three Cheers for the Bishops

Article excerpt

Byline: Lisa Miller

They're righteous on immigration.

Let's hear it for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I'm not even remotely joking. Catholic bishops, both in the U.S. and abroad, have taken a justified beating in the press of late (including in this magazine) over their defensive and self-serving efforts to explain the Vatican hierarchy's role in the sex-abuse crisis that continues to roil Europe. But, as my grandfather used to say, when they're right, they're right. On the question of immigration reform and, in particular, on Arizona's new law S.B. 1070, the bishops aren't just right. They're righteous.

The law, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week, essentially allows local police to investigate--and then detain or trigger deportation proceedings against--any person about whom they have a "reasonable suspicion" of residing in Arizona without documentation. (Just how law-enforcement officers will do this without violating the protections guaranteed by the Constitution will be the focus of forthcoming lawsuits.) After the bill passed, Cardinal Roger Mahony, who grew up in Los Angeles--a city where half the residents are of Hispanic or Latino origin--vented on his blog. Careful parsing has characterized bishops' public statements of late; here Mahony lets it rip. S.B. 1070 is "the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law," he wrote--a product of "totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources." He went on to compare the legislation to incipient Nazism.

Diverse religious groups are condemning the law and calling for federal immigration reform, but Catholic prelates have taken the lead. In March the bishops of Arizona wrote publicly against S.B. 1070, saying it could "be detrimental to public safety and ... divide families." Around that time, Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo met with Texas Sen. John Cornyn, in hopes of persuading the Republican to take up a legislative fight on behalf of immigrants' rights. "We've been very concerned with how we treat human beings," says Bishop John Wester, chair of the Committee on Migration and Refugee Services for the USCCB. "We believe that human beings are suffering and being put in an untenable position because of our broken legal system. …