US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Arizona immigration law to come before the Supreme Court

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

On April 25th the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Arizona state immigration law--popularly known as SB1070. Already it is receiving amicus curiae briefs--third party briefs supporting one side of the other in the case. The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops submitted one--along with other religious, labor and civil rights groups--supporting the U.S. Justice Departments contention that the law is unconstitutional and that immigration is the sole jurisdiction of the federal government.

The bishops’ brief accepts the basic argument of Justice. The Catholic Church in this country has a long and sharp memory of how state laws were often used by Nativists and Know-nothings to exclude Catholic immigrants--mostly Irish and Germans--in the 1839s and 1840s. It was then that congress and the federal courts, to have uniformity nationally. made immigration the jurisdiction of Washington. But later new generation of Nativists federal law to restrict immigration in regard to Catholics from Southern and Eastern Europe. The bishops were strong advocates for a fair, compassionate and welcoming immigration policy. So the bishops are well suited to speak on immigration, since in ministered to the spiritual and material needs of poor immigrants, turning them to be patriotic and productive citizens.

The brief argues that only through federal legislation can the goals of protecting family unity and respecting human dignity be safeguarded and promoted. Provisions of SB1070, on the other hand, “would hinder these critical federal objectives by replacing them with the single goal of reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in Arizona at all costs.”

Another argument the bishops use is that SB1070--and the other state look-a-likes—“threaten to restrict the Church’s ability to provide pastoral and social service care to immigrants and their families, thus infringing upon the Church’s religious liberty.” When these laws were first introduced, bishops, clergy and lay church workers asked whether they would be in violation of state law if they gave a lift to an undocumented person to church--or even to the emergency room of a hospital. Federal law guarantees emergency care.

The bishops concern is not merely about working within the rules, but rather a matter of conscience--so they argue SB1070 infringes on the church’s religious liberty. The brief say, “The Catholic Church’s religious faith, like that of many religious denominations, requires it to offer charity—ranging from soup kitchens to homeless shelters—to all in need, whether they are present in this country legally or not. Yet SB 1070 and related state immigration laws have provisions that could….criminalize this charity… [or] exclude from that charity all those whose presence Arizona and other states would criminalize.”

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in late April and will render a decision this summer--in time to join their decision on Obamacare to enliven the presidential conventions. However the justices decide, the U.S. church will not abandon the immigrants, even if they are declared Illegal and unwelcomed.