US Catholic Faith in Real Life

In Arizona, don’t ask for Band-aids or food stamps for the kids

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Arizona has the toughest state legislation against undocumented immigrants. Its employer sanctions have received most of the attention as challenges to the sanctions are winding their ways up to the Supreme Court. But more disturbing to the Hispanic community is a provision hidden in this year’s state budget that requires state workers to report any undocumented applying for a state benefit to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor.

The law, which took effect Nov. 24, is so vague that some feared at first that even calling the fire department to put out a blaze would require the fire department to turn in the undocumented caller. The Republican sponsors of the measure said that was silly and asked that some common sense be used. But common sense, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. There is still much confusion as to the extent of the law.

But in the Hispanic community it’s more than confusion. It’s created fear. In the early days of the law many applicants had their names sent to ICE and were deported. As a consequence, there is fear among the undocumented, even to apply for benefits their U.S.-born children are entitled to – most commonly health care (CHIP) or food stamps. Some parents are afraid to go to the emergency room, though they are entitled by federal law to treatment there. That fear has caught the undocumented only pleases the sponsors of the legislation, since their intent was more to drive them from the state than to save money. (See Arizona Republic.)

Now fewer undocumented are being reported, in part because fear is keeping applicants away, but also because the state Department of Economic Security has given clearer instructions on how to comply with the law. No one is to be reported to ICE except if he/she admits to being here illegally or there is some evidence that she/he is undocumented. Also they must be applying for the benefit for themselves or other undocumented. So a parent applying for benefits for U.S. citizen children and  have  proof of citizenship are not to be reported. The DES is now waiting of an opinion from the state attorney general on the scope of the law.

Immigration cases clogging the federal courts
At the end of each year the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court releases “a state-of-the-courts report. This year Chief Justice John Roberts noted that a third of the cases in federal courts dealt with immigration, and of those two thirds were cases of people who re-entered the country after deportation. Roberts reported that almost 27,000 individuals faced serious federal charges related to immigration, but this was only a fraction of immigration cases. Minor cases touching on immigration are handled by magistrates – adding up to 80,000. To this must be added the cases in the administrative immigration courts. There have been complaints from judges in recent years that too many immigration cases are clogging the federal courts. (See Arizona Republic.)