By Patricia Zapor Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., one of many religious leaders decrying Arizona’s new immigration law, said he will ask the general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to become involved in lawsuits expected to challenge its constitutionality.
In his “Monday Memo” posting on the diocesan website April 26, Bishop Kicanas said he believes the law needs to be challenged for reasons beyond the constitutional questions that many opponents of the bill have raised. Among his objections to the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, signed April 23, are that it “does not address the critical need for border security to confront drug smuggling, weapons smuggling and human trafficking.”
He also objected to the law on the grounds that it “sends a wrong message about how our state regards the importance of civil rights;” distracts local law enforcement from their primary role in protecting public safety and puts additional pressure on depleted law enforcement resources; discourages people from reporting crimes if they lack legal immigration status; makes criminals out of children who were brought to the United States by their parents; risks splitting families apart; and could cause further damage to an already strained state economy.
In a phone interview with Catholic News Service April 23, Bishop Kicanas said he hopes violence will not result from the tension in Arizona that led to the law’s passage by the legislature and has accompanied its signing by Gov. Jan Brewer.
“I hope that whatever is done will be civil and not lead to violence,” he said. “Emotions can lead to irrational behavior.”
He said religious leaders, in particular, must work with their communities to ensure that people realize violence is not the way to address the situation.
Along with Bishops Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix and James S. Wall of Gallup, N.M., whose diocese includes parts of northern Arizona, Bishop Kicanas had called for a veto of the bill and for a more comprehensive approach at the federal level to solve immigration problems.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., closed his district offices in Tucson and Yuma early on the day Brewer signed the bill, because of death threats received by his staff.
Grijalva strongly opposed the bill and said after it was signed that “the governor made a huge mistake. By signing this bill, she’s nationalized this issue. This opens up a dangerous precedent for the rest of the country.”
Grijalva called for an economic boycott of his state by those opposed to the law and urged the federal government not to cooperate when local police try to turn over immigrants they detain over their legal status.
Thousands of protesters opposed to the law gathered at the state capitol in Phoenix leading up to the signing ceremony and in the days since. Nationwide, rallies in support of federal comprehensive immigration reform long planned for May 1 were expected to have new focus and determination, as supporters of comprehensive reform zeroed in on the Arizona law as a consequence of Congress’ delay in dealing with the dysfunctional immigration system.
The Arizona Interfaith Network and the heads of several of the state’s major religious denominations issued a statement saying that “by codifying racial discrimination this law makes Arizona the laughingstock of the nation and a pariah on the international stage.”
In the statement, United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano of the Southwest Desert Conference said that through their social services, schools, congregations and workplaces, religious leaders “witness the human consequences of an inadequate, outdated system.”
Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith said the law “offends the dignity of all Arizonans.”
“The tendency to scapegoat a vulnerable population for Arizona’s economic stagnation and federal inaction on immigration issues is an unworthy and counterproductive response to the problems we face,” Bishop Smith said.
Bishop Kicanas said he expects the law’s implementation — in July, 90 days after signing — will be delayed by legal challenges.
The law would make it a crime to be in the United States illegally. Federal law treats that as a civil violation.
The law also would require police to make a “reasonable attempt” to determine legal status during “any lawful contact” and require immigrants to carry proof of their legal status, also not a requirement of federal law. It also makes activities such as soliciting work from public roads illegal and would allow anyone who does not believe a police officer or agency is sufficiently enforcing the law to file a lawsuit.
Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative in southern Arizona and Northern Mexico told the Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix, that the law “violates the dignity of the human person” and ultimately “undermines the safety of our community.”
Father Carroll said public safety depends upon trust between the community and the police and that the law will make that difficult.
“Crimes are committed and people feel like they’re going to have to report their legal status,” he said. The Kino Initiative aids immigrants after they’re deported from Arizona. The bigger issues will still happen on the border, he said, where drugs and human smuggling are rampant.
In signing the bill, Brewer emphasized that “racial profiling is illegal,” and that the law stipulates police need not ask about residency status if it would impede a case.
Supporters of the legislation, who also gathered outside the Capitol hours before the signing, said, like Brewer, that the law is necessary because the federal government hasn’t acted to control border problems.
“This is just another step,” according to Robert Kuhn, a member of St. Luke Parish in Phoenix who belongs to the Minutemen, a border watch group. “The federal government won’t enforce the border, so states have to take it into their own hands.”
Volunteering on the border with the Minutemen, Kuhn said he has seen drug and human smuggling. Undocumented immigrants are “dragging on our society,” he said. “They have no right to do it.”
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