As has been widely reported, on April 23, 2010, Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer signed into law SB 1070. Arizona’s statute requires law enforcement officers throughout Arizona to enforce this law by detaining persons they “reasonably suspect” to be an “alien” “unlawfully present in the United States.” Ostensibly, the detention has to be a “lawful contact” with an alien, but it is apparent that the new statute empowers law enforcement to terrorize the immigrant population in Arizona.
We have already seen how this terror and fear has manifested itself, not just in Arizona, but throughout the country and even in the Diocese of Monterey. Since April 23, 2010, we have seen demonstrations and conflicts that accentuate the “us” versus “them” mentality that is so destructive to our communities and allows a culture of violence to prevail. Moreover, it disrupts our feeling of security in our homes and families by creating fear that, at any time, a loved one – as son or daughter, grandchild – could be detained and as the Arizona statute says, transferred to the “jurisdiction of the federal authorities.” This sounds much like the Nazi-era in Germany.
Our country is a nation of immigrants. I, myself, am the son of immigrant parents from Mexico. Nearly all of us trace our roots back to families that came to the United States from another country – whether from Ireland, Italy or other European countries, or from Mexico or South America -- to improve their lives and to provide opportunities for their children. Immigrants have transformed this nation from a loose confederate of thirteen colonies, to the world power that it is today. To think that immigrants are a threat to our nation is simply absurd -- rather we know of the tremendous contributions immigrants have made to our country and our well-being.
It is obvious that we need comprehensive immigration reform to allow the migration of people from other countries to the United States in a way that values their human dignity and the God-given gifts and talents each person possesses. As it stands, our immigration policy values certain immigrants over others and has the effect of kindling within the undervalued immigrants a feeling of desperation that they will never be able to emigrate legally. Immigrants are yearning to live in a place where they can attain economic security for their families and safety from persecution. This is what we all want, and we believe that we all have a right to raise our families in dignity and security and to be free of discrimination and persecution. With the new Arizona statute, immigrants – whether documented or not -- will face the same type of persecution and fear that they confronted in their countries of origin. We cannot condone such a state of terror.
Prejudice and fear are not the principles on which this country is founded and such “ideals” are unworthy of us as Christians. Rather, we should “welcome the stranger” as Jesus did and see the good in the face of each person. To that end, we need an immigration policy that understands the contribution of immigrants to our economies as well as to the cultural diversity they bring which enriches our communities. The statute in Arizona does nothing to further these goals. It is a shortsighted and mean-spirited initiative that does nothing but encourage prejudice and bigotry by authorizing those in our communities to suspect those of color as being a threat rather than a gift from God.
I urge the Arizona legislature to repeal this law and encourage a constitutional challenge to this statute before its implementation slated for July. In a broader context, I hope that the outcry over this statute in Arizona will be a signal to President Obama to work toward a comprehensive immigration reform that allows for greater immigration and values the human dignity of those who wish to come to the United States. At the same time, I am concerned about the growing desire for a boycott of Arizona as I believe that it will impact most dramatically the immigrants we are fighting to protect as they disproportionally fill positions in the hospitality industry.
We must remember that Christ died to break down the dividing line between “us” and “them” and to invite all into the Body of Christ. As St. Paul states in his Letter to the Ephesians, “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.” (Eph. 2:19-20)
Rev. Richard Garcia is the bishop of the Catholic diocese of Monterey, California.