PHOENIX, Arizona, APRIL 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The bishops of Arizona are joining other religious leaders to denounce an immigration bill that was approved Monday by the state legislature.
The bill, which was sent to Governor Jan Brewer for approval, would give more power to the local law enforcement agencies to arrest and punish people suspected of being illegal immigrants.
Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, and Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, joined a dozen religious leaders from other churches in a letter urging Brewer to veto the bill, Catholic News Service reported.
The letter asserted that the bill “could make felons, not only out of dangerous criminals (as is warranted), but also the many undocumented immigrants who have come to this country at a very young age and have no familiarity with any other country but the United States.”
The leaders expressed concern “for these children and for families that may have a mother and a father, one of whom is a citizen and the other of whom would now be considered a criminal.”
Last month, the bishops had already released a statement expressing concern about the proposed laws, which do not “clearly state that undocumented persons who become victims of crime can come forward without fear of deportation.”
“Anything that may deter crimes from being reported or prosecuted will only keep dangerous criminals on the streets, making our communities less safe,” they stated.
The March 8 statement underlined another aspect of the bills, which would make Arizona “the first state in the nation to codify its own illegal immigration law by requiring persons who are here unlawfully in terms of federal law to be charged with trespassing” under state law.
“The bill itself does not limit enforcement to persons suspected of criminal activity,” it noted, “thus leaving the possibility of criminalizing the presence of even children and young persons brought into our country by their parents.”
The prelates asserted that these bills “could lead to separation of family members that would not take place under current federal law.”
“We believe it would be far better to withdraw these bills than to risk costly and unfairly punitive enforcement,” they stated.
Brewer is expected to make a decision about the bill this week.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, posted online in his blog an article decrying the Arizona bill, which he called “the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law.”
“The tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources,” he stated. “That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.”
Speaking as one who has “been working for federal comprehensive immigration reform,” the prelate affirmed that “the present immigration system is completely incapable of balancing our nation’s need for labor and the supply of that labor.”
He continued: “We have built a huge wall along our southern border, and have posted in effect two signs next to each other. One reads, ‘No Trespassing,’ and the other reads ‘Help Wanted.'”
“Our highest priority today is to bring calm and reasoning to discussions about our immigrant brothers and sisters,” the cardinal said.
He added: “We are a nation of immigrants, and their commitment and skills have created the finest country in the world. Let’s not allow fearful and ill-informed rhetoric to shape public policy.”
Cardinal Mahoney exhorted, “Let’s direct our energies where they need to be focused: passing a federal comprehensive immigration law which is forward-looking and which will help balance our need for adequate labor forces in the coming years.”
He concluded, “I have met so many of our immigrant families and I am in awe at their love for our country, their care and concern for their children, and their resourcefulness in helping to improve our communities, our way of life, and our economic future.”