In a statement released yesterday, the bishops of the Catholic Conference of Arizona told state lawmakers that they fear proposed legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants will intimidate them into not reporting criminal activity when they are victims and cause a spike in crime rates.
Currently, Senate Bill 1070 and House Bill 2632, which are identical, would require local police to enforce immigration laws more stringently. However, the bishops are concerned “that the present language of these bills does 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,” the prelates added.
The bishops also expressed concern about the bills’ attempt to allow the State of Arizona to put its own law on illegal immigration on the books, making it the first state to do so. The proposed statute would require immigrants who are in the state illegally under federal law to be charged with trespassing under state law. The charge associated with the former is a high-level misdemeanor, while the latter is a felony.
While the proposed law intends to make it easier for the police to detain immigrants suspected of being complicit in a crime, the bishops fear that the unintended consequences of the legislation would be far reaching and detrimental to society.
If the bills become law, they warned, it could lead to the “possibility of criminalizing the presence of even children and young persons brought into our country by their parents.” “If enacted, these bills could lead to separation of family members that would not take place under current federal law,” they said.
The statement concluded by calling for a withdrawal of the two bills, an option the bishops said is better than the risk of “costly and unfairly punitive enforcement.” The Arizona prelates also called upon the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform to address the problems with the current immigration system.
“In the meantime,” they wrote, “we are concerned that local legislation not create new problems for families or have a negative impact on public safety.”