Seekers of "American Dream" Need Extra Help

Interview With Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson

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CHICAGO, JUNE 19, 2005 ( The Diocese of Tucson receives thousands of illegal immigrants who cross the border and the Arizona desert in search of the «American dream.»

They do not always find that dream. Every year, more than 300 people die in what has been called «death row.»

Now, border-crossers have more than the desert to worry about as anti-immigration groups are taking an active role to «hunt down» illegal immigrants to turn them over to the authorities.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson speaks of the initiatives of the Catholic Church to protect and help immigrants arriving in Arizona.

Q: Which is the most serious problem facing the Tucson Diocese and how is it trying to resolve it?

Bishop Kicanas: Obviously, it is the problem of immigrants. We are trying to carry out an integral policy of acceptance of immigrants to address the problems they are creating on the border with Mexico.

Q: What measures are you implementing in Tucson to integrate the immigrants into the Catholic Church?

Bishop Kicanas: The border is a priority for the diocese. There are a couple of initiatives that are being put into play. One of them is to tighten ties of union with our counterpart diocese, Hermosillo, in Sonora, Mexico, and also the Phoenix Diocese.

We three bishops are constantly talking about cooperation and understanding of the migratory phenomenon. The other derives from this joint endeavor — by sharing efforts we can better serve the immigrants.

Q: What is your opinion about the forthcoming meeting of border bishops of the United States and Mexico in El Paso on June 23?

Bishop Kicanas: It will be a great opportunity for the bishops of Mexico and the United States, for the people who work in our diocesan teams, to know the border situation and how to protect the rights of illegal workers that cross it daily.

Q: Do you expect something from this event?

Bishop Kicanas: I expect a growing relationship between the bishops of both countries. We have already written a joint document; and taken steps towards unity. Now we must act together to take care of the immigrants.

Q: Does the state of Arizona have some experience that should be known by the rest of the bishops of both sides of the border?

Bishop Kicanas: Yes, there is a growing interreligious alliance in Arizona, a coalition of religious leaders, Jews, Muslims and Christians, who are very involved and interested in working for reform of the immigration policies of the United States. This is very important.

Q: What has the Catholic Church’s reaction been like against groups dedicated to hunting down immigrants on the border with Mexico?

Bishop Kicanas: First, I think that those who head the border patrol have tolerated this. They are involved in these militias, in which people take the law into their own hands. They must be monitored and observed.

At the same time, they must be channeled. Many of them love their country. And what we must make them understand is that the majority of immigrants are not criminals, they are not terrorists: They are people struggling to survive.

Q: What, then, is the responsibility of religious leader on this subject?

Bishop Kicanas: It is to educate their people through detailed information, which helps people see the human face of immigration. I am convinced that this simple fact will make the difference. The immigrants are human beings, many of them with an unshakeable faith, desperate to be able to support themselves and their families.

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