Every Monday, the Most Rev. Gerald Kicanas, vice-president of the USCCB and bishop of Tucson, my home diocese, sends an e-mail memo out to the clergy, religious and lay ecclesial ministers of the diocese. It includes information on where he's going and what he's doing, as well as news bits from around the diocese. He might mention a new facility being built at a parish, a secretary of 30 years retiring from a small rural parish, or point out some good work being done by a youth group. It amazes me that he does it at all, given his pastoral duties, but I am grateful for it. It tells me he is interested in his flock.
Last week he included in the memo some responses he made to questions or comments he had received in the mail from people who were concerned that he and the other bishops of Arizona (Phoenix and Gallup, NM, which includes part of northeastern Arizona) had spoken against Arizona SB1070, the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act" (click here to download a pdf of the bill). I believe his comments in response to those questions are helpful, since undoubtedly many of you are hearing - or thinking - the same things.
There were certain concerns involving the new law and my opposition to it that seem to bother
people the most. Let me reflect on some of those concerns:
• You say these migrants and immigrants are not criminals, but they have broken the law. They
are criminals. What part of “illegal” don’t you understand?
I am not supportive of open borders. Clearly, our nation has a right to protect its borders.
We are a nation that values and respects the rule of law. Illegal immigration is not good for
anyone. It is not good for the migrants who pass through our rugged desert at the risk of their
own lives. It is not good for our country when we do not know who is crossing our borders.
However, the reality is that the great majority of migrants enter our country out of human
desperation. These are the people who are caught in the fierce “push-pull” tides of this
phenomenal migration. They are pushed by poverty in their home nations. They are pulled by our
nation’s need for people to do certain kinds of work.
There are very strict quotas for legal entry that do not reflect the need our nation has for workers
and the need for people to work. Sometimes, law needs to be changed because it does not reflect
the current situation or it is not just because of changed circumstances.
Many have said the immigration policy in our country is “broken.” That is what I believe.
Comprehensive immigration reform would put into place a system that would allow those who
want to work to be here legally to do that work. It would allow our border security to clamp
down on drug and weapons traffickers, human smugglers and the criminal network that has
developed around the phenomenal migration.
This comprehensive immigration policy would replace illegality with a system based on legal
presence and legal entry, restoring the rule of law. It would include a program in which workers
could come into the country legally to work. It would include worker rights provisions so that
those coming here to work are not exploited. It would contain an earned pathway to legalization
(not amnesty). This would bring those here illegally out of the shadows, require them to pay a fine
and any owed taxes, to learn English and to be gainfully employed as they stand in line for a
chance for citizenship.
I understand that people crossing the border to seek work outside of our legal processes are doing
something illegal and in that sense could be characterized as “criminals” or “illegals,” but yet I
wonder if you and I were faced with a preoccupation on how to care for our families would we
not risk crossing a border to provide for them.
• The Catholic Church is only interested in this issue to appease Hispanics who make up such a large
percentage of the Catholic population.
A core teaching of our Catholic tradition and that of other faiths is the need to welcome the
stranger. I have heard this from our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters as well as from
members of other Christian denominations. Our Church has spoken up on behalf of migrants and
immigrants throughout the history of our nation. We are a nation of immigrants, and our nation
has benefited from the skills, ingenuity and hard work of immigrants. The Church does not
support “open borders” and recognizes the right of a nation to protect its borders. But, we need
also to respect the responsibility of families to find a decent way of life. Pope John Paul II has said
that everyone has a right to a decent way of living in their own country, but if that is not possible
they have a right to migrate. Our Church has both the right and responsibility to address the
moral dimensions of migration and immigration.
• The Church and its bishops have no right to meddle in politics.
Prodding our government to do something about people dying in our desert is not politics.
Speaking out about a flawed law is not politics. Bishops and the Church have a responsibility to
uphold the moral teachings of the Church and to monitor legislation to make sure that it upholds
the dignity of all human life. That is why the Church speaks up about the right to life of the
unborn, the right to dignity and respect for people with disabilities, the elderly and the immigrant
and any of the littlest and weakest among us. We could not be faithful to Christ if the Church
would remain silent about legislation that treats human beings with less than the dignity they
• What’s wrong with this new law?
My first concern is that is that it can heighten fear and create divisions within our communities. It
changes the dynamic of how we live together in community.
One young Hispanic student came up to me after our discussion at Salpointe Catholic High
School and in tears asked me what I could do to stop the insults and put-downs that she and her
friends have hearing since the passage of this law.
Furthermore, along with many local law enforcement officials, I believe the law will distract local
law enforcement from their primary responsibilities for public safety. It will make it difficult for
people here without proper documentation to report crimes and will push them further into the
shadows. It has the potential to split families. It could cause economic harm to our state.
I know our state legislators pushed forward this bill out of frustration and anger at the lack of
response on a Federal level, but that should encourage us to advocate for comprehensive federal
immigration policy change.
I will be joining several leaders of faith communities in our state next week to do just that as we
meet with members of our Arizona Congressional delegation. We will encourage them to move
beyond partisan bickering and get this issue resolved. That will take great political courage, but
that is what characterizes true leadership. “Profiles in Courage” should be the hallmark of our