The U.S. bishops have backed efforts in Alabama to turn back a state law they say would threaten the Catholic Church’s ministry to undocumented immigrants.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chair of the migration committee of the U.S. bishops’ conference, offered his “solidarity and support” to Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Bishop Robert J. Baker of Birmingham, and other religious leaders in the state who are trying to reverse the law.
Archbishop Rodi and several Protestant denominations are seeking relief from a law they say criminalizes parts of the Church’s mission and interferes with the free exercise of religion.
“The Catholic Church provides pastoral and social services to all persons, regardless of their immigration status,” Archbishop Gomez said Sept. 8. “Our mandate is to provide for the pastoral and social care of all of God’s children. Government should not infringe upon that duty, as America’s founding fathers made clear in the U.S. Constitution.”
He called upon the Obama administration and Congress to enact “comprehensive” immigration reform.
“Our nation is in great need for a federal solution to the challenge of illegal immigration, one that balances the rule of law with humanitarian principles,” Archbishop Gomez said.
The Alabama legislature’s HB 56 requires law enforcement officers to attempt to determine the immigration status of a person “who they suspect is an unauthorized alien of this country.”
It also criminalizes the “transport, concealment, harboring and housing of unauthorized aliens,” in a broad manner that critics say will make most forms of assistance to immigrants illegal.
In an Aug. 1 letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, Archbishop Rodi said the law makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize undocumented immigrants, hear their confessions, or preach the Gospel to them.
“Nor can we encourage them to attend Mass or give them a ride to Mass. It is illegal to allow them to attend adult scripture study groups, or attend CCD or Sunday school classes,” he said.
He charged that the law prohibits “almost every activity” of St. Vincent de Paul Society chapters or Catholic social services and could even make it illegal for these immigrants to attend Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.
“This law,” the archbishop said, “attacks our very understanding of what it means to be a Christian.”
The Justice Department has filed its own lawsuit charging that the law intrudes on the federal government’s immigration policies and responsibilities.
The law was scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1 but a federal judge temporarily blocked it. A decision on the law is expected by the end of September.