In a statement released April 27, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) denounced a recently signed law in Arizona which criminalizes undocumented immigrants, calling the legislative move “draconian” and saying it “could lead to the wrongful questioning and arrest of U.S. citizens.”
Writing on behalf of the USCCB, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. bishops' committee on Migration noted that he joins the Arizona bishops in “strongly opposing” the implementation of SB 1070, which was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last Friday.
According to ABC news, the new Arizona law makes it a crime to be in the state illegally and allows police to arrest and question suspected individuals about their status without a warrant. It also criminalizes transporting illegal immigrants anywhere in Arizona, even if by family members.
“This new law, although limited to the State of Arizona, could have impact throughout the nation, in terms of how members of our immigrant communities are both perceived and treated,” Bishop Wester said.
Explaining the specifics of the legislation, Bishop Wester stated that “SB 1070 gives law enforcement officials powers to detain and arrest individuals based on a very low legal standard, possibly leading to the profiling of individuals based upon their appearance, manner of speaking, or ethnicity.”
“It could lead to the wrongful questioning and arrest of U.S. citizens and permanent residents as well as the division of families – parents from children and husbands from wives,” he added. “It certainly would lead to the rise in fear and distrust in immigrant communities, undermining the relationships between their members and law enforcement officials.”
The Salt Lake City bishop also charged that the bill “is symptomatic of the absence of federal leadership on the issue of immigration.”
“For years now, the U.S. Catholic bishops have called upon Congress and two Administrations to enact meaningful and just comprehensive immigration reform,” he noted. “While many of our federal elected officials have made good faith efforts to pass reform, too many still view the issue through a political lens, using it to gain political or partisan advantage.”
“This gamesmanship must stop,” Bishop Wester asserted.
“Our national leaders must educate the American public on the need for reform and show courage in making it happen,” the prelate stated. “Until immigration reform is passed, other States will attempt to create and enforce immigration law, with harsh and ineffective consequences.”
In his concluding remarks, Bishop Wester said that the “U.S. Catholic bishops stand in solidarity with the bishops of Arizona in opposing this draconian law. We call upon the Administration to review its impact on civil rights and liberties. We renew our call for the Administration and Congress to work in a bipartisan manner to enact comprehensive immigration reform as soon as possible.”