Arizona religious leaders protest immigration bill

Several religious groups have urged Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the controversial immigration-enforcement bill recently passed by the Arizona legislature. Under the leadership of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, heads of more than a dozen groups have written the governor to request a veto, including Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith.

SB1070 gives Arizona law enforcement the authority to inquire about immigration status, and to act on it. Furthermore, the law gives citizens the right to sue their local police if they believe that they are not aggressive enough in checking on immigration status. Brewer needs to either sign or veto the bill by Saturday. reports:

Under the leadership of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, heads of more than a dozen groups have written the governor to request a veto.

They say the bill, if it becomes law, will “scare off potential employers and employees,” will force crime victims and witnesses to remain silent for fear of deportation, and could tear apart families.

The signers include the Catholic bishops of Phoenix, Tucson, and Gallup, N.M. The Gallup diocese includes two Arizona counties.

Also signing are the leaders of the Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian churches, as well as several other Protestant church leaders and Rabbi Maynard Bell of the Arizona Jewish Committee.

The organizations have expressed longstanding support for migrant laborers and immigrants. In 2005, for example, the Catholic bishops issued a lengthy letter to church members, titled “You Welcomed Me,” in which they argued that every human being deserves respect and dignity. posts a Religious News Service report:

Religious leaders are outraged over a bill passed by Arizona legislators that criminalizes illegal immigration, calling the bill “anti-immigrant” and a “social sin.”

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony compared aspects of the legislation, approved Monday (April 19) by the Arizona Senate, to “reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques whereby people are required to turn one another in to the authorities.”

But the Los Angeles Times reported that the latest version of the legislation would not mandate people to report suspected illegal immigrants to authorities, although an earlier version had such a requirement of public agencies. An amendment said law enforcement officers should take such action “when practicable.”

The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder and president of the anti-poverty group Sojourners, was among faith leaders calling for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the legislation.

“This law is a social sin, and would make it illegal for the faith community of Arizona to extend God’s love and charity to some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” he said.

A dozen leaders from across Arizona, representing Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faiths, wrote Brewer, seeking her veto.

“Our concern is that this bill could make felons, not only out of dangerous criminals (as is warranted), but also the many undocumented immigrants who have come to this country at a very young age and have no familiarity with any other country but the United States,” they wrote.

CNN says that legislators in other states are watching Arizona to see if the law passes constitutional muster because they want to copy it.

Michael Hethmon, general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, helped draft the language of the Arizona bill. The institute is the legal affiliate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

On the heels of the Arizona initiative, Hethmon said he has been approached by lawmakers from four other states who have asked for advice on how they can do the same thing where they live. He declined to identify the states, citing attorney-client privilege.

“Arizona was meant to be the leading edge,” Hethmon said. “If you are going to work on developing a state-based response to this enormous problem — the lack of a national immigration policy — Arizona is the place to do it.”

Here is the letter to the governor from the religious leaders.

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