Catholicism and Arizona’s Recent Immigration Law

The Bible is pretty clear in its posture on immigration: we should be welcoming to those strangers in our lands, those “sojourners” among us: or, to use the language of Genesis 15:13 (and Psalm 39:12, etc.), “strangers.” In the Old Covenant, from Exodus 22:21 to the even more striking Leviticus 19:34, onwards, we’re told repeatedly to welcome these individuals. Hospitality towards “strangers” is a mark of the just man (Job 29:16). In the New Testament, welcoming the stranger is something the saved do in Matthew 25:35, and which the damned failed to do in Matthew 25:43, from the lips of Jesus. Hebrews 13:2 also reminds us to continue this hospitality, noting that “by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

But all that said, there are legitimate security concerns as well. Just as our duty to care for the poor doesn’t mean we have to give money to every single impoverished person, the need to welcome the stranger doesn’t mean we have to open the borders to just anyone who wants to come to the US. But it does suggest that in our treatment of the immigrant, we should act in a way which embraces and affirms their human dignity.

All of this brings us to Arizona’s sweeping immigration law. I’m not as familiar as I should be with the specifics, but I’m familiar enough to be concerned. While I agree with the general premise – that there are legitimate reasons (including national security) in having less porous borders and in figuring out exactly who is here – I also have real concerns about the massive police powers, and those implications for both immigrants and U.S. citizens. I asked one of my friends, himself a (legal) immigrant, what he thought on this bill. He replied:

It’s a shame. This law is a shame.

I don’t understand how you can “reasonably” ask one person for proof of legal status and not another if not judging by his appearance. Unless they start randomly asking everybody, even blonde, blue-eyed people living in Scottsdale. The problem is not so much the law, as a foreigner -nay, an alien!- one has to follow the law of the land and I must admit that groups like the National Council of La Raza and the ACLU have given my people a false sense of entitlement. We don’t deserve anything in this country, other than respect for the most basic human rights. Everything else is not our right, but a privilege, given our status. However, there are ways to do things in such a way that you generate hate and rancor between people and common sense ways that deal with the real issue, which is macroeconomic at heart. They decided to go for the former.

Nobody – well, it has been mentioned – seems to be thinking about the fact that we don’t necessarily want to be here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad now to be here and have met you and a whole lot of other wonderful people, but if I could have found the opportunities to support my family and grow professionally in Mexico, I can assure, as sure as it’s light outside, that I would not be here right now.

Soon, if it’s not successfully challenged in higher courts, you will start hearing of cases of American Citizens being harassed by immigration officers and – it’s happened in the past, during the Bracero program of WWII – you might even have American citizens “deported” to Mexico, just because their last name is Hernandez or something and they have dark skin.

A friend of mine – who was working illegally in California – told me once “You know, this immigration issue is really easy to solve: they could just force people to provide documentation to cash your paycheck. Nobody would go to the US if you couldn’t collect your pay”. That’s what they could do if they really wanted to deal with the issue, instead of using my people to score political points. Yes, there would be ways to get around that, but it’s always easier to tighten controls around money (and I say this as a CPA and former auditor for 9 years) which leaves an un-erasable trail, than this law that reeks of racism, bigotry and hatred.
The funny thing is, that I care so much about my people, and they don’t even speak Spanish to me. They don’t think I’m one of them.

I can’t think of a whole lot to add to this assessment, and think it’s got a lot worth considering as we discuss this hot-button issue. The last sentence in general is particularly concerning to me: that in rejecting many of the immigrants in question, we’re creating a class of people unwelcome anywhere. That prospect disturbs me, especially since many of the individuals in question are here simply out of the need to feed their families.


  1. A few points of clarification:

    The “ID” checks are only incidental to other stops, e.g. traffic violations, loitering, disturbing the peace, burglary, etc. Your average person going about his business won’t even know the law exists.

    As I read it, the only power that the AZ police will have regarding immigration law is to DETAIN until Border Patrol, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, or a verifying agency with legal authority can arrive to determine the case (or they are delivered to such agency). They CAN NOT deport even if they wanted to. They have no cooperation with Mexican agencies to do so.

    Most people don’t realize but the right of police to stop and detain people until their identity can be established has been law since 1968 – it’s called a “Terry” Stop after the name of the case. It has since been reaffirmed in 2004 regarding a case in Nevada where a citizen refused to show picture ID to state police. Like it or not, this is what we have.

    I’m very sorry to say but your friend’s use of those hot-button words like “bigotry, racism, and hatred” are more indicative of short-sighted emotionally-based ignorance. Arizona is still a sovereign state the last time I checked. Seventy percent of the voters support it – “it” being the enforcement of a law that is already in existence in all 50 states and the territories. The federal government had refused to enforce it’s own laws and no matter what you think of what AZ is doing here, what it does is force the feds to act. Now, they have to make a choice.

    All this being said, having spent many years in federal law enforcement, including the Border Patrol, I have serious misgivings about expanding police powers. Not for any ridiculous fear of racism, but because once authorities are given a power, they use it to the full extent. For example, probable cause. On any day, it will be used in court thusly:

    Q: “Why did you stop that vehicle, officer?”

    A: 1)Because it was heading north.
    2) Because it was heading south.
    3) Because it was driving too fast.
    4) Because it was driving too slow.
    5) Because the rear end was riding too low.
    6) Because it had reinforced shock absorbers.
    7) Because it was driving on a road that not many people drive on, so smugglers like to use it.
    8) Because it was driving on a road that many people drive on, so smugglers like to use it.
    9) Ad Infinitum…

    Anything can and is used to excercise authority. We are all completelely at the mercy of the instincts or whims of the authority on duty at the time. And yes, I’ve seen it abused.

  2. Christopher,

    Most of what you’re saying is true: the government does have the legal capacity to do Terry stops under Terry v. Ohio for mere “reasonable suspicion” instead of “probable cause” (the higher standard which is required for lawful arrests). I know some folks are questioning the legality of the law under the 14th Amendment. I’m not. I’m questioning the morality. So the simple facts that the state of Arizona can, and that the majority wants this done don’t make it moral.

    There’s one part which I think you’re wrong on, though. You say, “The ‘ID’ checks are only incidental to other stops, e.g. traffic violations, loitering, disturbing the peace, burglary, etc.” But in fact, the law (found here: says in Section 8(B) (and this is the subpart in its entirity):

    “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person. The person’s immigration status shall be verified with the federal government pursuant to 8 United States code section 1373(c).”

    So any time there’s reasonable suspicion, they’re now required to make an effort to determine immigration status. Not only may this law be used outside the realm of other crimes being committed, but it must. [I think you were confusing 8(B) with 8(C), which deals with post-conviction penalties].

    As for “bigotry, racism, and hatred,” my concern is what “reasonable suspicion” of being illegal looks like. In Terry, reasonable suspicion made sense. Three gangsters were casing a store: walking by it repeatedly (something like twelve times), looking in the store window, and then walking on – all in apparent preparation for a break-in. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest them, but the Court said that there was enough evidence to stop them and pat them down for weapons (which they had, by the way). But here, absent a crime being committed, how can someone look or act illegal? Simply fear of the police? And if so, isn’t there a risk that this will be circular in nature: i.e., that this law will make people more afraid of the police? So while implementation of the law may not ultimately be racist, I don’t think it’s “ridiculous” to see potentially racist implications. Particularly since, as you said, individual officers can find a way to defend virtually anything they want under a “reasonable suspicion” framework.

    But beyond even that, if the problem being addressed is illegal immigration, why not something like the idea he proposed – requiring proof of legal presence in the US at the bank? This seems to be far more effective at solving the problem, and it does so without trying to guess by external appearance who’s here legally and who isn’t. Plus, it avoids giving sweeping new powers to police, which as you suggest, can easily be abused.

    I definitely come at this from a different perspective than you: I’m just wrapping up three years of law school (much of which looked at ways in which individual police officers are able to apply the law in racist ways), and I’m here on the East Coast, pretty far removed from the day to day. As someone who’s been on the Border Patrol side and living near the border, am I missing something?

  3. Joe, corrections gratefully and graciously accepted regarding PC RS et al, It’sa been a good five years since I’ve had to really recall it, but I you got the point anyway.

    You said “can” be abused, I say “will.” It’s human nature. We live in a fallen state.

    As far as the idea of banks becomng immigration officers, good luck. Seriously, the feds have a hard enough time deciphering forged and faked documents, you really expect to give bankers federal powers to determine who is legal and who isn’t?!!! Would you station customs inspectors at every single financial institution, check cashing place, pawn shop, etc? Have you ever heard of black-market? That’s how I’d exchange all my money when I lived and worked in the Philippines, much better rate.

  4. Christopher,

    Fair. The bank system wouldn’t be foolproof. In fairness, though, we’re not talking about stationing customs at banks, pawn shops, and the like. We’d be looking at adding one more facet to what banks currently require for you to open a checking account, withdraw money, obtain a debit/credit card, and so forth. In this situations, there already are often stringent identification checking standards in place to protect against fraud (someone pretending to be you cashing a check they found). There often is frequently bank security on hand. As I understand it, if you attempt to create an account pretending to be someone else, you’ll be detained at the bank until the police arrived.

    The loopholes this leaves open are the black market and gray market (meaning sketchy financial institutions like disreputable payday loan places who declined to require ID). But those places would allow you to operate only on a cash basis: you couldn’t open a checking or savings account. So it would be a short-term fix, at best. Plus, both sides of that transaction would be violating the law. And since the gray market places wouldn’t know if you weren’t providing ID because you weren’t here legally, or because it wasn’t your check, the risk involved would turn off most.

    That leaves some sort of cash economy, of course, but for everyone who is here illegally and has a bank account, their assets would be effectively frozen. So the major advantages here are that it’s based upon information you volunteer as part of a business transaction (so it avoids most of the risk of profiling), avoids giving the police sweeping powers to use on anyone who (in their subjective view) doesn’t really seem to be a citizen, and would likely be very effective in achieving the actual goal of reducing the number of people here illegally. Even if it’s not a perfect solution, it seems just as effective (and probably more so) than the Arizona law without the nasty consequences.

  5. Joe, I keep leaving incomplete thoughts here and I apologize, checking the net every now and then in between working on the yard and playing with the kids. Let me look back over what you’ve offered when I can focus a little better.

    One question you might privatly ask yourself (and it’s one I won’t get into in a public forum) is what is the intent of immigration laws in the first place? Why make a distinction between legal and illegal? It’s the root of the issue and everything else is just window dressing anyway with NEVER a fix in site.

  6. Honestly I am so tired of liberals and social justice Catholics intentionally confusing “immigrant” with illegal invaders and criminals. Arizona is doing what the Feds will not – enforce existing law. And pretending that the police will click their heels and detain innocent hispanics out for ice cream with their families (so says maobama) is absurd on its face.

    The US is overrun with illegal invaders, the majority of which are Mexican. Our border states are unable to control the gang and drug violence, the trafficking of contraband, including human slave trade, and the financial burden on the welfare costs in the health care and education systems.

    It is a simple fact that the whole “immigration reform” is nothing more than the Dems attempt to seize perpetual control of government, a pro-culture of death government I might add, by granting immediate amnesty to these illegal invaders so as to make them Dem voters.

    Of course, another consequence of such “reform” is the final blow to our US economy and victory for Obama’s plan to destroy the white middle-class and its pro-capital system based on free markets and personal liberties. The US will soon become a 3rd world nation with a radical despot at the head who has lost its history.

    As a lifelong Catholic I am so saddened by the Church’s enabling of this betrayal of the land that my legal immigrant ancestors came to, learned English, defended in battle, and melted into as Americans without a hyphen. This betryal is as bad, if not worse, than the decades long murder of innocence of children by priests and their accessories in crime, the bishops. Shame, shame.

    And let’s take a look at how Mexico treats “immigrants” – please read the following article first published in 2006:

    And, have you forgotten the Elian Gonzalez case?

  7. SWilliams,

    I doubt seriously that Jesus would view illegal immigrants as criminals or invaders…unless they had committed a crime against the law of God. Other than seeking gainful employment to support their families, I don’t understand how I, as a Christian, could dare call them criminals…

    If you could find some Biblical reason that He would I’d be interested.

    I don’t know much about violence as a result of illegal immigration, and I don’t know much about the political issues surrounding this, but from a Christian perspective, the answer is certainly not this Arizona law.

    P.S. I would not classify Joe as a liberal Catholic, but what’s so wrong with Social Justice? Christianity and Social Justice seem to go hand and hand, do they not?

  8. Erin – you are very young and ill-informed. So first, start by reading this article by Kris Kobach, a Constitution Law Professor at UMKC Law School, and author to some significant extent, of the AZ bill. It spells out the terms so that you do not have to assume what it means or judge it based on how you “feel” about it.

    Then Erin, I suggest you educate yourself on the facts of the violence that has invaded the US and multiplied to a boiling point in border states. Remember the recent murder of Rancher Krentz? There are numerous videos on YouTube regarding the gang wars with blacks in CA. You might check out the position of LaRaza and the reconquista movement that seek to seize the US and oh yes, commit genocide on old, white people.

    Then please research the term “social justice” which is thrown around so lightly these days, especially by the Catholic Church and other mainstream liberal Christian denominations. It means redistribution of wealth, plain and simple. That is its origin, socialism, which is theft. The Church got in bed with Saul ALinsky in the 70s and embraced his philosophy. The Church used to teach and promote charity and compassion but the progressive movement which hijacked the Church in the 60s and 70s, and the Catholic Bishops, replaced those virtues with Alinsky style social justice.

    And Erin, I am on this earth long enough to have witnessed it first hand.

    Facts and evidence will lead to Truth Erin, not feelings.

  9. S. Williams,

    I’m going to keep this brief. Thanks for the reading suggestion. I will certainly read it. I would argue that even though I am not up to speed on percentages of violence, that is not the point of my post.

    Unfortunately as Christians we live a life of fact and faith. I would argue more strongly faith. I can’t prove that Christ rose from the grave, but I believe that He did. I believe in His gospel. And I believe immigrants are children of God. I also believe that murderers are too.

    Social Justice is not thrown around lightly and it doesn’t mean redistribution. Social justice isn’t simply a political term, it’s a way of life. A way of serving those lesser than myself. Loving others as much as I humanly can. That is the gospel I live by, Christ’s love.

    So I may be young and naive, but I’d rather be this way. It’s much more uplifting and I feel closer to Christ when I walk in love rather than judgement and hate.

    I truly appreciate your opinion. I also understand that violence in this country doesn’t just come from one group of people. Like Mother Teresa said on numerous occasions, if we have not peace, it’s because we’re missing love in our homes. And I just don’t think this Arizona law helps in any way by promoting racial profiling and racism in general, and not even solving the problem of our large immigrant population? The larger issue is that these human beings, citizens of this planet, children of God have nowhere to work, live, and provide a home for their families. That is a crime.

    And that’s all I’m going to say on it.

    I wish you well.

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