Undocumented Immigrants Have Friend in Catholic Church

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In the first of two commentaries on immigration reform, Ruben Navarrette praises Cardinal Roger Mahony's stand against a House bill that would punish anyone who assists undocumented immigrants coming to the United States.


Private social service for illegal immigrants is another issue in the immigration reform debate and Congress is grappling with it right now. That causes commentator Ruben Navarrette to worry.


When it comes to immigration reform, it's clear that Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles views Congress with a mixture of sadness and contempt. Good for him; he has reason. After all there are plenty of opportunists in the House of Representatives who score cheap political points by picking on people who can't defend themselves. Illegal immigrants who came to this country for what President Bush correctly describes as jobs that Americans want do, people who many Americans would have a tough time living without.

But what has Mahony hopping mad isn't' the hypocrisy, it's the anti-immigrant hysteria. The House passed an immigration reform bill that would make criminals our clergy and churches and other social organizations. It would expand the definition of smuggling to include anyone who, quote, assists an illegal immigrant, something the Catholic Church does daily through countless charity and aid programs. So theoretically, anytime a Catholic relief agency hands someone a bowl of soup, or a bed in a shelter, even marriage counseling it would first have to determine if the person was in the country legally.

In the senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter took that language out of the bill. But no matter how the senate votes it's still in the house version. And the issue won't be decided until conference. That's what concerns Mahony who has a history of taking brave and principal stands against anti-immigrants in California.

He was an outspoken critic of Proposition 187, a mean spirited ballot incentive that sought to deny education and other services to illegal immigrants. Mahoney thinks this proposed federal ban against helping immigrants is an abomination. He believes that it runs contrary to Hebrew and Christian scriptures about caring for aliens and strangers. And so he says if that language makes it into the final immigration bill he'll defy the law and he'll instruct the priests who severe the five million members of the Los Angeles Archdiocese to do the same.

Immigration restrictionists are shocked, but I don't see why they should be, we've been here before. Remember, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s letters from the Birmingham Jail where he made plain that one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws? I'll bet Mahony's to the left of me politically. He probably doesn't share my view that the United States can't afford an open border and that we need more border patrol agents.

Nor do I suppose he'd go along with me in support of deporting immigrants who are here illegally. But we do agree on this much, sometimes congress gets carried away with it's on readier and needs to be reigned in, and this is one of those times; a time when it falls to a Roman Catholic cardinal to add his voice to the debate, and remind us in the clearest possible terms that we as a people are so much better than this.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Ruben Navarrette is a member of the San Diego Union Tribune editorial board and a nationally syndicated columnist. We'll have another perspective on immigration reform later in the week.

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