As the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on a controversial Arizona immigration law, the bishops' leader on migration issues criticized the legislation for failing to respect human dignity.
The court's decision in Arizona v. United States “will mark a critical juncture in our nation’s immigration history,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chair of the U.S. bishops' migration committee.
In an April 24 Washington Post article, the archbishop called for a single unified approach to immigration for the whole country rather than “a patchwork of 50 state immigration policies” that poses a threat to family unity and human dignity.
On April 25, the Supreme Court heard arguments in both support and opposition of a 2010 Arizona law that requires foreigners in the state to carry registration documents and imposes strict penalties on those who hire, shelter or transport illegal immigrants.
It also instructs state law enforcement officers to check an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest” if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally.
The U.S. Justice Department has challenged the law, arguing that it is irreconcilable with federal immigration law. Lower courts have ruled that some of the provisions in the law were unconstitutional. The question now comes before the Supreme Court.
Initial reports after the April 25 oral arguments suggested that the justices seemed supportive of at least part of the law. However, it will likely be June before a decision in the case is announced.
In his article, Archbishop Gomez warned that the Arizona law treats foreign-born individuals as threats rather than contributors to American society.
It encourages racial profiling, which “is inconsistent with traditional American respect for human dignity and equality before the law,” he said.
He cautioned that provisions in the law leave all ethnic minorities vulnerable to injustice, regardless of their immigration status.
Furthermore, the archbishop said, the Arizona law poses a threat to “innocent children and family unity.”
By leading to increasing separations of parents from their children, he observed, the law would demonstrate a disturbing “anti-family” trend that would mark “a deep and unhealthy change in our American character.”
He also voiced concern that the legislation gives state and local law enforcement officials “unprecedented power” to act as “immigration agents,” a move that threatens the trusting relationship between government and immigrant communities.
The impact of the Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling could be far-reaching, as the Arizona law has prompted other states to consider similar legislation.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has submitted a friend of the court brief in the case, arguing that the federal government is best suited to enforce uniform immigration laws while also protecting key American values such as family unity, human dignity and religious liberty.
The bishops also worked with other religious leaders to send letters to Congress and President Barack Obama, urging them to “reassert your authority” and pass much-needed immigration reform at the federal level.
Stressing the importance of the court’s decision, Archbishop Gomez warned that “the human consequences” of upholding the Arizona law will harm “all Americans.”
“Most disturbing,” he said, is the fact that upholding such laws would “change our American identity as a welcoming nation, which has served us well since our inception.”