Parishioners and priests of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph took part in a hastily called protest Sunday against Arizona’s new immigration law and in favor of federal immigration reform. The protest was sponsored in part by the Diocese’ Human Rights Office.
Earlier this month, KCSJ Bishop Robert Finn joined in an interfaith gathering outside Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s Kansas City office urging the senator to support fair and comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.
The Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph issued the following statement at Sunday’s protest:
Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph Statement on Arizona Immigration Law
On Friday April 23rd, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed one of the harshest laws in the nation regarding immigration. Many civil rights groups, immigrants’ rights groups, and religious groups have condemned this legislation as a violation of basic civil and human rights. The Catholic community has grave concerns regarding this legislation as well, but before listing our concerns it is best to review the contents of the law:
•Requires police officers to “make a reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation.
•Allows lawsuits against local or state government agencies that have policies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws.
•Focuses on hiring of illegal immigrants as day laborers by prohibiting people from stopping a vehicle on a road to offer employment and by prohibiting a person from getting into a stopped vehicle on a street to be hired for work if it impedes traffic.
Statement of the Arizona Catholic Bishops to the Legislation
The Catholic bishops of Arizona issued a statement on April 21st regarding the concerns of the Catholic community over this legislation. These concerns are enumerated as follows:
· The present language of this legislation does not clearly state that undocumented persons who become victims of crime can come forward without fear of deportation.
· Arizona becomes the first state in the nation to codify its own ‘illegal immigration’ law by requiring persons who are here unlawfully in terms of federal law to be charged with trespassing under Arizona law. The charge for breaking the federal law is a high misdemeanor; the charge for breaking Arizona’s new law is a felony.
· The legislation does not limit enforcement to persons suspected of criminal activity, thus leaving the possibility of criminalizing the presence of even children and young persons brought into our country by their parents. This legislation could lead to separation of family members that would not take place even under current federal law.
The present state of unrest in Mexico is forcing many people to flee for their safety and to find work in the midst of a society filled with poverty and drug violence. Since January 2006 more than 16,000 people have been killed throughout Mexico due to drug violence. Within this context the people fleeing such a situation have a right to migrate to the United States and receive asylum status; currently our country does not allow for this possibility. What is more, our diocese has not been able to conduct mission trips to Mexico for the past two years due to the fact that we cannot ensure the safety of our clergy and young people in this violent climate. The state of Arizona and the United States in general has a right to protect its borders from criminals who would try to enter our nation and expand the drug violence in our country. However, this legislation does not address this issue, nor does the state of Arizona have the power or the competence to do so.
We therefore echo the words of the Arizona Catholic bishops in their statement: “The problems with our immigration system are complex, and it is our prayer and hope that Congress will ultimately address this broken system with comprehensive immigration reform. In the meantime, we are concerned that local legislation not create new problems for families or have a negative impact on public safety.” Local legislation in Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, and elsewhere has contributed new problems to the immigrants living in our midst. Racial profiling and random searches without warrants or reasonable cause are common experiences, leading to the erosion of civil rights for all of us. As Archbishop Jose Gomez, archbishop designate for Los Angeles has stated, “Immigration is the great civil rights test of our time.”