As I am sure many of you heard in the news, this week the state of Arizona passed a law that makes it a crime under state law to be an undocumented immigrant. Perhaps most disturbingly, the new law allows police to stop anyone they suspect of being undocumented and to demand they show proof of citizenship.Yes, the Arizona law, following US Federal law, makes it a crime to be in this country illegally, to be "an undocumented immigrant".
It is disturbing to see such anti-immigrant prejudice being stirred up again in the United States. It was not long ago when we Irish (and other European Catholics) were the objects of this same nativism and there was a negative attitude towards us, our Church, and our culture. We have always been an immigrant Church in the United States, and we must have a special regard for those who are coming to our shores. Certainly, the United States has a right and an obligation to control its borders but, at the same time, we also need just and reasonable immigration laws. The fact that there are millions of undocumented people in the United States is an issue it behooves us to resolve. These people are paying taxes, are part of our work force, and are part of our community. It would be impractical, and indeed impossible, to deport all these people. The only way that we can really heal the situation is by coming up with a path towards legality, but that must be part of a comprehensive immigration program that has reasonable quotas. Sometimes, our quotas do not represent what the work force really needs in the United States.
Having spent my whole life working with immigrants I can say that the Europeans would love to have our problem. The children of immigrants who come to this country — whether they come documented or undocumented — will be Americans, and they will identify with this country, defend it and be part of this body politic.
Unfortunately, the proposals of President Bush and the Kennedy-McCain Bill did not pass. I realize that today’s economic climate makes it more challenging to deal with the issue, but it needs to be dealt with at a national level and with great regard for the social justice questions involved. This issue cannot be solved through the hysterical response of local communities that will cause a great human suffering, discrimination against our own Hispanic citizens and legal residents, and deeper divisions within an already polarized community.
The law does not allow the police to stop people on the street because they, the police, suspect the person is undocumented. The law does not allow the police to "demand they show proof of citizenship" unless that person has called attention to himself or herself by actions which cause the police to believe that person has committed some other, unrelated crime.
In sum, the new Arizona law parallels the US Federal law, but is much less intrusive and abusive than the parallel Mexican Federal law. It is time for people, especially those who are community leaders, to get a grip on this and to present factual, reasoned and productive responses. By productive I mean offering up plans for fixing this problem. For example, the Democrats in Congress apparently have the outline of a solution, which The Washington Post has filed here. Named "REPAIR" (Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform), it starts out by stating:
Proponents of immigration reform acknowledge that we need to meet clear and concrete benchmarks before we can finally ensure that America’s borders are secure and effectively deal with the millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States. These benchmarks must be met before action can be taken to adjust the status of people already in the United States illegally and should include the following: (1) increased number of Border Patrol officers; (2) increased number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to combat smuggling operations; 3) increased number of ICE worksite enforcement inspectors and increased inspection resources; 4) increased number of ICE document fraud detection officers and improved detection capability; 5) increased number of personnel to conduct inspections for drugs, contraband, and illegal immigrants at America’s ports of entry; 6) improved technology, infrastructure, and resources to assist the Border Patrol and ICE in their missions; 7) increased resources for prosecution of drug smugglers, human traffickers, and unauthorized border crossers; and 8) increased immigration court resources to expedite the removal of unlawfully present individuals.Gee, is this not a response to the Arizona law?
Regards — Cliff