Bishops: Ariz. Immigration Law Shows Need for National Reform

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Arizona's new anti-immigration law sparked wide condemnation by U.S. Catholic bishops and other faith groups, along with new calls for long-overdue national immigration reform.

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, on April 30 called the newly introduced Senate framework on immigration reform "an important first step" to enacting reform.

"Our immigration system is badly broken and is in need of immediate repair," he said.

Three days earlier Wester joined with the Catholic bishops of Arizona and New Mexico in decrying Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's April 23 signing of the new state law, SB1070, innocuously titled the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act."

The law says an illegal immigrant found on Arizona land, public or private, is guilty of trespassing--a misdemeanor on first offense and a felony on second offense or if the person is found in possession of certain illegal drugs or a dangerous weapon. It also authorizes citizens to sue law enforcement authorities if they do not enforce the law, once it takes effect in 90 days.

Wester called the new law "symptomatic of the absence of federal leadership on the issue of immigration" and urged Congress and the Obama administration to "work in a bipartisan manner to enact comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible."

The new Arizona law is expected to face several court challenges to its constitutionality.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., said April 26 that he was asking the bishops' conference general counsel to study the law and find an appropriate point to join in challenging it as a "friend of the court."

Kicanas is vice president of the U.S. bishops' conference. His diocese, which covers the entire Arizona-Mexico border, is the most affected by illegal immigration.

In his April 26 "Monday Memo," a weekly bulletin to diocesan and parish leaders, he warned that the new act "does not address the critical need for border security to confront drug smuggling, weapons smuggling and human trafficking."

Instead, he said, it sends the wrong message about the state's regard for civil rights, risks splitting families, and makes criminals of migrant children and teens "who had no choice but to accompany their parents here in their search for a better life."

It also distracts law enforcement authorities from the primary role of public safety, depletes their resources and discourages persons without papers from reporting crimes committed against them, he said.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, in a blog April 18, called the newly passed legislation, then still awaiting the governor's signature, "the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited and useless anti-immigrant law. …