Take the recent statement posted on the USCCB's website, written by Bishop John C. Wester, on Arizona's new immigration law, which reads in part:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I join with the Catholic bishops of Arizona in strongly opposing the enactment and implementation of Arizona SB 1070. 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.
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. It certainly would lead to the rise in fear and distrust in immigrant communities, undermining the relationships between their members and law enforcement officials.
If you stopped there, you'd miss what to me is possibly the most important paragraph in the statement--the one that comes next:
SB 1070 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.As Robert mentioned in his earlier post, the Catechism of the Catholic Church deals with immigration in CCC 2241:
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.It seems to me that the Catechism passage shows the sort of balance that needs to take place between the rights of the immigrant and the rights of the common good of the residents of the country to which he aspires to move. A nation does have the right to control its borders, to regulate immigration, and to establish just laws and reasonable penalties for the breaking of those laws. At the same time, the immigrant who comes to that nation in violation of those laws does not somehow lose his right to be treated like a human being; he should not wander in a kind of legal limbo, forbidden to work or to put a roof over his head on the one hand, but ignored by the authorities responsible for enforcing immigration laws on the other.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
When I read this summary of SB 1070, the Arizona law in question, I found some parts of it reasonable, most particularly the degree to which the law seems to reflect frustration on the part of Arizona's lawmakers that the federal efforts to curb illegal immigration have, thus far, been so laughably ineffective. Unfortunately, I also see some of the things that worry the U.S. bishops on this, including:
--the chance of racial profiling
--the provision which essentially makes it illegal for an illegal immigrant to work
--the provision which permits immigration status to be investigated when "determining eligibility for any public benefit, service or license provided by any federal, state, local or other political subdivision of this state..." among other things.
What this could mean is that those currently present illegally in Arizona might find their families at risk of homelessness and hunger, without any means either via honest work or with the help of public programs to alleviate these ills.
It is true that those entering our country do not have the moral right, except in rare circumstances when to remain in their own country would mean loss of life, to come here in violation of our immigration laws. But once they are here, we do not have the right to treat them without regard to their human dignity, which allows them to work and to survive. This is especially true when it is the injustice of our laws which turn, too often, a blind eye toward the "recruitment" of illegal immigrants by employers in agriculture, food production, food services, construction, hospitality, landscaping, retail, and dozens of other businesses, many of them large corporations, while "cracking down" on the individual man or woman who is here illegally.
And though there are laws against hiring illegals, the penalties are often rather weak--fines that range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per employee, for example. What is that to a company that may be saving millions of dollars a year by hiring employees who don't need to be paid the minimum wage and aren't subject to any of the "rights of workers" laws designed to protect workers--and who can't belong to any union?
For now, the bottom line for me is that while I sympathize with the frustration that helped create the Arizona law, I think that the enforcement efforts are disproportionately aimed at the wrong people: the individual illegal immigrant, who may be married to an American citizen and have American citizens for children, in some cases. The majority of the effort to reform immigration law needs, in my opinion, to be aimed at those corporations who are willing to flout our nation's laws on immigration again and again in order to increase their profits and satisfy their Wall Street investors--because until that happens, these employers will continue to create a demand for illegal workers. And as long as there is demand, does anyone doubt that there will continue to be a steady supply?