US Catholic Bishops Opposition To Arizona Immigration Law Leaves Many Unanswered Questions

April 29, 2010

US Catholic Bishops Opposition To Arizona Immigration Law Leaves Many Unanswered Questions

By James Todd

Cardinal Mahony, pictured at a recent immigration rally in Washington DC
April 29, 2010 - The US Bishops have roundly condemned the recent Arizona immigration law. That’s not necessarily surprising, especially given the social activist tendencies of some of the more politically liberal bishops, Cardinal Mahoney being a good example. What is surprising is this condemnation has also come from much more conservative quarters. Bishop Finn of the diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph and Archbishop Dolan of New York have also both issued statements opposing the AZ law.  It seems clear that the bishops are of one mind when it comes to this issue.

There is a gigantic problem though. The bishops’ opposition lacks any detail or specificity – and it is the details that are important. It’s a lot like saying one is opposed to war and for peace.  Almost everyone can agree on that point. The disagreement arises in the details—because there are circumstances where war is justified and necessary to achieve peace.

Archbishop Dolan of New York addressed the AZ immigration bill in his blog.  In this column he laments and condemns the fact that immigrants often become scapecoats.  He also, quite rightly, points to the Catholic ethos of welcoming everyone, and the important role that immigrants have played in the U.S. There is only one problem with his analysis:  immigrants can be separated into legal and illegal categories.  By an overwhelming majority, those that entered the U.S. in the latter part of the 19th and the first of half of the 20th century, were LEGAL immigrants.  The immigrants that the AZ law is attempting to address are ILLEGAL ones. 

Cardinal Mahoney was one of the first to comment on the new law, he compromised his credibility by comparing it to Nazism.  His comments really served no purpose but to ratchet up the rhetoric.  One wonders if he even read the law.  It’s only seventeen pages and having read it, there is nothing in it that would justify such an over-the-top slam. I would call it a quite reasonable and commonsense law – and one that I support.

So you see, there is a huge disconnect between the bishops’ almost universal criticism of this bill and my understanding as a Catholic layman as to why.  Frankly, the President has the same problem with the citizens of this country; an overwhelming majority of U.S.  citizens oppose illegal immigration – NOT immigration – illegal immigration.

Catholic bishops studied moral theology in the seminary; I have not. I admit that I may be ignorant on this topic and am very much willing to be educated about the moral imperatives of this subject.  To that end I have a few questions to ask Your Excellencies.  The answers may help me understand your moral opposition to this law.

  1. Is it moral for a state or the federal government to impose controls on immigration?

  2. Is it moral for the government to enforce such laws?

  3. Does the government have the moral right to deport people that have entered the US illegally?

  4. Does the government have the moral obligation to give illegal immigrants amnesty?

  5. Is it immoral to ask people to document or prove they are in the U.S. legally? If so, how is that different than a foreign government asking me to show my papers/passport and prove that I am in their country legally?

  6. Is it immoral for a government to deny FREE medical coverage to illegal immigrants for non-life threatening conditions.

  7. Is it immoral to deny illegal immigrants and/or their children access to our FREE public school system?

I look forward to seeing answers to these questions in print, in the near future. Cardinal Mahoney, Archbishop Dolan, Bishop Finn, please educate me and the majority of Americans who currently disagree with you on this issue.  

I do not oppose immigration; my grandparents were legal immigrants. What I oppose is illegal immigration.  I favor immigration reform, as do the bishops.  But like the topic of “peace” mentioned earlier, it’s easy to agree we need immigration reform, but the devil is in the details. Precise answers to the above questions will provide many of these details.

I have an open mind and am willing to be convinced that my opposition is misplaced.  Answers to the above questions will go a long way to helping me, and many other Catholics in the United States understand the Church’s position on this issue—and therefore your opposition to this law. Your Excellencies, we the lay faithful whom you sheperd, ask you our spiritual leaders for moral clarity on this issue. While your position on this issue is quite clear, the moral underpinnings for it are not.

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