US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Re-forming our immigration "reform"

Liz Lefebvre | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

A year ago near Tuscon, Arizona, six people were killed and 13—including Representative Gabrielle Giffords—injured at a shooting at a constituent meeting at a local Safeway grocery store. At the time of the shooting, Arizona was in a heated battle over immigration. Many hoped that in the wake of the tragedy, our nation'would have adopted a more civil tone toward immigration.

Instead, Arizona's controversial legislation passed in 2010 requiring law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone detained who they have reasonable suspicion to believe is in the country illegally has become a model for new laws in several other states. (Giffords, who represents a district that borders Mexico, has worked tirelessly on the issue of immigration, and she did not support Arizona's landmark law, saying it would do nothing to secure our borders.)

Though many elements of these laws, like in Arizona, have been blocked or are currently being challenged in courts, here’s a sampling of legislation that has been proposed by other states around the nation:

Alabama's HB 56:

  • Requires public schools to check the immigration status of students
  • Criminalizes the act of giving an undocumented immigrant a ride
  • Instructs police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop if they suspect the person is in the country illegally
  • Makes it illegal to knowingly rent to or hire an undocumented immigrant

Georgia's HB 87:

  • Requires law enforcement to check the status of people who cannot provide identification when requested
  • Makes it a crime to: transport an undocumented immigrant in Georgia, entice an undocumented immigrant to enter Georgia, and conceal or harbor an undocumented immigrant
  • Allows legal residents over age 21 to file civil actions against officials or agencies to require that these new laws be enforced

Indiana's SB 590:

  • Allows law enforcement to request identification/immigration status verification from individuals who have been lawfully detained
  • Requires that public meetings be conducted only in English and requires that only English be used on documents or communication issued from the state
  • Allows law enforcement to arrest a person with probable cause that the person is undocumented

South Carolina's SB 20:

  • Requires law enforcement to determine the immigration status of any person lawfully detained if there is “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally
  • Prohibits transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants
  • Requires that undocumented immigrants always carry their federal certificates of registration

(We’ll have more coverage on this topic in our upcoming March issue – don’t miss it!)

There are two main points in Catholic teaching on immigration policy. First, we should welcome foreigners out of charity and out of respect for the human person. People have the right to immigrate, and nations—especially prosperous ones—should accommodate this right. Second, the church acknowledges that countries have the right to enforce their laws, and all people must respect this.

The USCCB recommends a focus on comprehensive immigration reform rather than on “enforcement only” policies such as those listed above. When talking of enforcement, the bishops say:

The U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would‐be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.

Let's hope that as another year goes by, we'll be able to find a humane approach to immigration reform that respects both the rights of the government and the dignity of all humans.

For more from U.S. Catholic on immigration:

Obama eases family unification

Don't scratch your head--it's only immigration law

Sheriff Joe Arpaio faulted by feds for treatment of Hispanics

Newt Gingrich jolts the GOP on immigration

Another new translation: Word "immigrant" to appear in Bibles