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Bishops call for immigration reform, seek to help families affected by massive raid

.- Bishops in six U.S. dioceses are reacting this week to a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, which resulted in nearly 1,300 arrests.  Families of many of the arrested workers have sought assistance from their churches to locate arrested loved ones and provide for life needs after losing their primary sources of income.

Immigration officials raided meatpacking plants in six states on Tuesday.  The raids netted unauthorized workers from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Laos, Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries, according to the AP.  A large majority of the immigrants hailing from Latin American countries were Catholics.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver responded to the raids, which affected a number of Catholics in his archdiocese, by calling attention to the flaws in the American immigration system, a system he said, “that needs immediate and very serious reform.”

Chaput emphasized that while the Catholic Church supports the law, as well as those officers who have the duty to secure American borders and enforce the law, the U.S. has, “an immigration system that seems disconnected from the human and business realities of the American economy.”

The Denver Archbishop said that in his opinion raids such as the ones conducted Tuesday will not solve the immigration crisis.  “In fact,” he added, “such actions often engender more confusion and bitterness, and they don’t strike at the root of the real issue,” which is a flawed immigration system.

Although much was made of the raids’ focus on illegal immigrants using the identities of U.S. citizens to obtain jobs, The Department of Homeland Security has announced that of the 1,282 arrests made at Swift & Co. plants, 1,217 were on immigration charges and only 65 arrests were on criminal charges such as identity theft.

Archbishop Chaput noted that, “while public officials have explained the reason for these raids as criminal identity theft, most of the real criminals – the people who steal and sell the false identities so that undocumented immigrants can find work – were not among those arrested.”

The archbishop also questioned the timing of the raids, which came barely two weeks before Christmas and on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most important religious feasts of the Americas, and in Mexico particularly.  

Bishop William Dendinger, Bishop of Grand Island, Nebraska, which was also affected by the raids, raised similar questions about the timing of the event.  The bishop told CNA that while he could only conjecture as to reason for the timing, he would be surprised if the ICE did not know of the Marian Feast.

“There are enough Hispanic people working in ICE, due to the language requirement, that I would be surprised if that wasn’t known, but they may have said, ‘well this is our schedule, its already set,’” the bishop offered.

Dendinger told CNA that his diocese is in a mode of assessment right now, trying to determine how many individuals and families have been affected, what the status of arrested individuals is, and what the next steps will be.  

“Its been difficult to get any information at this point as to how many, what will happen, what are their options.  Maybe there will be a press release, but right now they just came in and took them away on busses…And (the families) don’t know what is going to happen next, especially if they are undocumented,” Bishop Dendinger said.

The Prelate said one of the key issues the Church is focusing on is dealing with family separation.  “One of the spouses may be taken away and we’re not sure what they have done to deal with the children of those spouses who have been taken away, whether they will give them some sort of reprieve to help their children or whether they will just be taken away and deported.”

The bishop said the diocese is working to support families left behind and to offer shelter for those who are now afraid to go to their homes, for fear that they will be arrested.

Dendinger also said the diocese is attempting to arrange transportation for individuals who were taken to Iowa for processing, then released as they await trial.

One of the keys, Bishop Dendinger reemphasized, is just getting information to those affected, and deciding how the Church can help.

In the mean time, Archbishop Chaput added, Catholics should continue to pray, “that God will grant our law enforcement authorities prudence, justice and restraint in carrying out their duties, and that members of Congress will act rapidly and with courage in fixing an immigration system that has clearly failed.  Above all, we need to pray for the children and spouses of those persons who were arrested and face deportation at this sacred time of year.”

In addition to the Archdiocese of Denver and Diocese of Grand Island, the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and Dioceses of Salt Lake City, Winona, and Amarillo have been affected and are taking action to assist the affected parishioners.


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