Bishops Say Arizona Immigration Law Hinders Family Unity
by David Gibson
Arizona’s 2010 immigration law will impede the goal of promoting family unity, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops holds in a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the case challenging the law now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The law also poses a threat to religious liberty, the brief said.
The USCCB was joined in the brief by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the stated clerk of the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church.
Religious liberty is a concern for the Catholic Church in this case because its faith “requires it to offer charity — ranging from soup kitchens to homeless shelters — to all in need, whether they are present in this country legally or not,” the brief observed.
However, it said state laws like Arizona’s “have provisions that could either criminalize this charity, criminalize those who provide or even permit it, or require the institutions that provide it to engage in costly (if not impossible) monitoring of the individuals they serve and then to exclude from that charity all those whose presence Arizona and other states would criminalize.”
The brief noted that in 2010 alone, Catholic Charities assisted more than 10 million people in the United States. “That assistance ranged from operating soup kitchens to offering pregnancy and adoption counseling, to providing temporary shelters and transitional housing,” it said.
Family Unity, Human Dignity
Immigration laws modeled on the one in Arizona now are found in a half-dozen other U.S states. The brief said that “a patchwork set of state” regulations similar to those approved in Arizona “would seriously threaten the Catholic Church’s mission to serve all in need.”
If these laws are “allowed to stand,” they “would burden the religious liberty of Catholic institutions in many ways that the federal regime does not,” the brief said. The religious organizations that joined in filing it “all have strong interests in ensuring that state immigration laws do not undermine certain goals” of federal legislation, it commented.
At the same time, the brief noted that the U.S. Catholic bishops repeatedly have “testified before Congress on immigration law and policy, and have been outspoken critics of certain provisions of current federal immigration laws which are inconsistent with many church teachings.”
However, it said Arizona’s law “is not a proper solution to the current problems in federal law. To the contrary, such state action actually causes more problems than it solves.”
The USCCB said it was “compelled” for two reasons to file this brief supporting the federal government’s case against Arizona’s law:
— “First, the conference has a strong interest in ensuring that courts adhere to two important goals of federal immigration law — the promotion of family unity and the protection of human dignity.”
But the provisions of Arizona’s law “at issue in this case would hinder these critical federal objectives by replacing them with the single goal of reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in Arizona at all costs,” which the conference described as “flatly inconsistent with this country’s longstanding, holistic approach to immigration policy.”
— “Second, and more generally, the conference is acutely interested in protecting the religious liberty of Catholic and other religious institutions.”
Family unity “represents the cornerstone of federal immigration policy,” according to the brief. It pointed out, for example, that federal law “grants the largest number of annual visas to family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and gives the attorney general discretion to waive bars on admission out of ‘family unity’ concerns.”
The brief said “federal immigration law seeks to keep parents and their children together.” Also, for example, the federal government “gives preferential consideration to family ties in its enforcement” of general deportation provisions.
“The idea that federal law should promote family unity is hardly limited to immigration but instead reverberates throughout our laws,” the brief observed. It expressed concern about the “devastating impacts on families of harsh immigration enforcement.”
It also pointed out that “according to church teaching, families have a number of natural rights, including ‘the right to exist and to progress as a family, and the right to a societal structure that allows them ‘to live together.’”
Balance of Competing Interests
The case of “Arizona v. United States” asks the nation’s high court to rule on the constitutionality of several key provisions in the state’s law.
For example, the law requires law enforcement officers to verify the immigration status of every individual stopped, arrested or detained if there is “reasonable suspicion” that person could be in the country without authorization. The law makes it a crime for an immigrant not to carry an “alien registration document.”
Immigration law on the federal level “represents a comprehensive balance of competing interests,” the brief stated. Thus, it said the law “seeks to balance the removal of undocumented immigrants from this country against competing objectives, including concerns for family unity and human dignity.”
In the current case, the federal government “has explained in detail how” the provisions of Arizona’s law at issue “would skew immigration policy judgments made at the federal level by implementing one objective (the attrition of undocumented immigrants) at the cost of all others,” the brief said. It added:
“That these state provisions would eviscerate two central principles behind the federal government’s immigration policy, family unity and human dignity, underscores the point.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.