Arizona’s three Catholic bishops and other religious leaders in the state have issued a statement calling on Gov. Jan Brewer to veto recent legislation targeting undocumented immigrants. They warned the bill would separate families and discourage crime victims and witnesses.
The Arizona Senate passed SB 1070 on Monday by a vote of 17 to 11. It requires state and local police to determine the immigration status of people if there is “reasonable suspicion” they are illegal immigrants. They must arrest those unable to provide documentation showing they are in the United States legally.
The religious leaders’ April 19 letter voiced “common serious concerns” about the bill. Bishop of Gallup James S. Wall, Bishop of Phoenix Thomas J. Olmsted and Bishop of Tucson Gerald Kicanas were signatories to the letter, as were leaders from Protestant denominations and a rabbi with the American Jewish Committee.
They warned it could classify as felons not only dangerous criminals, but also undocumented immigrants who came to the United States at “a very young age” and have “no familiarity” with any other country.
“We are concerned for these children and for families that may have a mother and a father, one of whom is a citizen and the other of whom would now be considered a criminal,” the letter continued.
While SB 1070 responds to concerns about violence on the Mexican border, the religious leaders said the bill is “not a legitimate solution” and may inadvertently reduce public safety.
They explained that provisions of the bill may compel local police to ignore more serious crimes because of language that they enforce federal immigration laws to the “full extent permitted by federal law.”
Acknowledging that SB 1070 has been improved so that police officers now have discretion over whether crime victims and witnesses should be turned over on immigration charges, the letter said “It would be much better, however, if victims and witnesses could come forward knowing for certain that they will not be deported.”
Fears about reporting serious crime would threaten public safety in all Arizona communities, the religious leaders said.
The legislation would make Arizona the first U.S. state to create its own crime for “people who are merely present in the country without proper paperwork.” A first offense is a high misdemeanor while a second offense is a felony.
The letter noted that supporters of the bill claim the provision requiring documentation would be narrowly enforced. It countered that the bill itself does not limit the enforcement of this provision.
The religious leaders also warned the bill may “scare off” potential employers and employees seeking to come to Arizona. This could further delay economic recovery.
“For all of the reasons above, we are united in respectfully asking that you veto SB 1070 and spare Arizona the many negative consequences of this ill advised bill,” the religious leaders’ letter concluded.
Noting a veto would require “great political courage” from Gov. Brewer, the leaders professed willingness to support her.
Archbishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony harshly criticized the bill in a post on his blog Sunday, calling it the country’s “most retrogressive, mean-spirited and useless anti-immigrant law.”
Blaming the present immigration system for its inability to balance the labor market, he noted that retiring baby boomers need to be replaced.
The cardinal claimed the bill assumes Arizona residents and law enforcement personnel will give their total attention to guessing which Latino-looking person is properly documented.
“I can't imagine Arizonans now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities on any suspicion of documentation,” Cardinal Mahony wrote.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the proposed law would not in fact require people to report suspected illegal immigrants to authorities. It would require law enforcement officers to make such reports “when practicable.”