Cardinal Mahony Speaks Out on Immigration Reform

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Some American church leaders are concerned new immigration laws could interfere with their religious work in immigrant communities. Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, The archbishop of Los Angeles, has been an outspoken critic of some immigration reform proposals, especially those that would make illegal immigrants felons. Madeleine Brand talks with the cardinal about why immigration is such an important issue for his church.


Immigration has always been a hot topic here in Los Angeles. It's the largest Catholic diocese in the country, and many of its parishioners are immigrants from Latin America.

Cardinal Roger Mahony has come out strongly in favor of immigration reform. I spoke with him yesterday at the archdiocese headquarters in downtown Los Angeles.

You've raised a lot of eyebrows when you said you would not adhere to a provision in the House bill that would make it a crime to assist an illegal immigrant. Do you really think that this part of the bill, that the crafters of this bill were targeting clergy? Did you make that statement to bring attention to this issue?

Cardinal ROGER MAHONY (Archbishop, Los Angeles, California): Well, I made the statement primarily to show if you trail this argument out to its completion, you then start including all kinds of people. So, I thought, I said, well, what if it got so absurd by assisting undocumented people, that it even came to giving out Holy Communion at mass? Are we supposed to have everybody coming up to communion show us documents that they're here illegally?

This punitive approach, if you just trail it out to its extreme, shows how absurd that is, and it's not going to change anything. It is not going to deter people from coming here, and that's not the history of our country. And it's certainly not the spirit of our country, because, especially the church, we have, all of our churches, not just Catholic, but all of our churches, we have always been here to help people in need. They're at our front door, and as Christians, we see the face of Christ in them. And so, we serve them. And so, I did it on purpose to show if you carry it to its extreme, how ludicrous the argument is.

BRAND: Which proposal do you support that's currently being debated in Congress?

Cardinal MAHONY: Well, of all the things we've seen so far, what was passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday has most of the elements in it that we are looking for. The provisions of this judiciary committee bill, this Specter Bill, does allow for people who are, who came here before 2004, a whole series of steps--six years, they have to pay a $1,000 fine, they have to learn English, a number of things they have to do. They earn their citizenship, and I think that's really key for us, because that's what we're looking for, too.

BRAND: You have had a long history working with immigrants, and you knew Cesar Chavez, and I'm wondering what he would make of this situation today. What would he say?

Cardinal MAHONY: I think Cesar would be right there with the rest of us, as his union is today, because we need decent, humane immigration reform. And he would see the tremendous shortage of farm workers in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, where they don't have the people they need at all. So, he would be very much in favor of this, I believe, simply because we need genuine immigration reform.

Our whole immigration system is completely out of control. And the church is not for open borders, everybody come. No, we are for a system that has elements that are just, fair, and that give people the opportunity to earn citizenship in this country.

BRAND: Cardinal Roger Mahony is archbishop of Los Angeles.

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