US bishops’ book on immigration urges compassion

10 January 2014

ENS/JANET KAWAMOTO

Barred: Bishop Diane Bruce gives a blessing at the US-Mexican border in April, 2012

Barred: Bishop Diane Bruce gives a blessing at the US-Mexican border in April, 2012

FOUR bishops in the United States have published a book, Bishops on the Border, that calls for immigration reform, and urges Christians in the US to approach the issue with compassion.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, of the United Methodist Church; Bishop Stephen Talmage, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tucson, the Rt Revd Gerald Kicanas; and the Episcopal Bishop of Arizona, the Rt Revd Kirk Smith, all minister in Arizona - a state where large numbers of Mexicans have illegally crossed the border in recent years.

The bishops explain their experiences of the debate over immigration, and suggest what Christians in the US should do in response to the issue. All four agree that the current system is failing, and urge the US Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for people who entered the US illegally in the past.

Bishop Kicanas says: "As a moral matter, we cannot continue to exploit and dehumanise these, our brothers and sisters, who simply want to survive. As Catholics, we read the scriptures as noting God's deep care and concern for the stranger, the sojourner, the outcast."

Bishop Smith agrees, saying: "The concept of the brotherhood of man is not just some politically correct slogan, it is a mandate that we must care for each other as fellow daughters and sons of the same Creator."

Arizona has been at the fore-front of the debate about illegal immigration from Mexico in recent years. The state passed a strict anti-immigration law in 2010, under which police officers were allowed to demand proof of immigration status of those who had been pulled over, detained, or arrested.

The authors recognise the strong hostility in Arizona towards immigrants, but say that this attitude, and the 2010 law, are wrong.

Bishop Carcano, who was the first Hispanic woman elected to the United Methodist episcopate, describes the passing of the anti-immigration law as a "day of shame" for Arizona. "Many [young people] feared that their immigrant parents would be deported, and that their families would be separated and trampled by a rampant hatred that was out of control in Arizona.

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"I believe that at the root of this cruel attitude towards immigrant children and young people we will find racism and nativism. [We are called] to be faithful . . . to the One who calls us to welcome and love the immigrant."

Bishop Talmage notes that, within a generation, Latinos will be a majority in Arizona, and writes: "If the Lutheran Church wants to have a future in this area of the country, then those in the congregations of this synod have to work to cross the barriers that our fear, ignorance, and sense of entitlement erect."

Approximately 8000 people have died trying to cross the now 600-mile wall along the US-Mexico border, Bishop Smith says. Bishop Kicanas says that women and children who survived the journey into Arizona speak of being robbed, beaten, and raped. He calls for action to "secure the border from criminal behaviour, end the violence and destruction of property along migrant routes, and address the human-, drug-, and weapons-trafficking that are prevalent."

All the bishops say that their stance on immigration has led to abuse. But they insist that Jesus teaches them to treat immigrants with compassion, not harshness. "It is a religious campaign," Bishop Smith says. "The politicians who build those walls might call themselves Christians . . . but they didn't read their Bible - they forgot that God hates walls!"

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