The Supreme Court's decision on an Arizona immigration law drew both praise and concern from the bishops' leader on migration issues, as well as a renewed call for federal immigration reform.
“The U.S. Catholic bishops across the nation will urge their state governments to not pursue laws such as in Arizona, but rather to pursue humane reform on the federal level,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ migration committee.
On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down several provisions of a rigid Arizona immigration law, while allowing another controversial provision to stand.
Archbishop Gomez was both hopeful and cautious in reacting to the court’s decision in Arizona v. United States, which arose when the federal government challenged the state’s 2010 immigration law, claiming that it was incompatible with federal law.
The court rejected much of the law, determining that the state of Arizona cannot require immigrants to carry registration papers nor allow for warrant-less arrests based solely on the suspicion that someone is an illegal immigrant.
Nor can it make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to apply for or hold a job, the court ruled.
Archbishop Gomez said that the court’s decision to strike down these provisions "reaffirms the strong role of the federal government in regulating immigration.”
However, the court allowed another part of the law to stand, while leaving the door open for future legal challenges. This provision requires state police to check the immigration status of any detained person if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally.
Archbishop Gomez said that the bishops are “concerned with the Court’s decision to lift the injunction” on this part of the law. At the same time, he said, they are “encouraged” that the court did not explicitly rule the provision constitutional.
He explained that this regulation “could lead to the separation of families and undermine the Church’s ability to minister to the immigrant population.”
“We stand in solidarity with our brother bishops in Arizona, as they prepare to respond to the implementation of this provision and its potential human consequences,” he said.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had submitted a “friend of the court” brief in the high-profile case, arguing in favor of a single unified approach to immigration throughout the nation rather than a “patchwork” of different policies in each state.
The bishops’ conference asserted that the Arizona law threatened important American values such as family unity, human dignity and religious liberty.
It voiced concern that such laws might criminalize the Church’s charitable aid, which is offered to all those in need, regardless of their immigration status.
Opponents of the law have also argued that it would encourage racial profiling and pose a threat to innocent children.
Archbishop Gomez emphasized the continued need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.
“Humane enforcement of our nation's laws are part of any solution, but enforcement by itself, unjustly administered, only leads to abuses and family breakdown,” he stressed.
“The Church will continue to stand by immigrants and their families and seek justice on their behalf,” he said.