US Catholic Bishops Argue against Arizona’s SB 1070 on Religious Liberty Grounds

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) vehemently opposed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. That bill, championed by Congressman James Sensenbrenner, would have made it a crime to “assist” an unauthorized person to remain or reside in the United States, as well as to harbor, conceal or shield an unauthorized person from detection. The bishops protested that the Sensenbrenner bill would have, inter alia, criminalized acts of charity. The USCCB and other religious organizations make a similar argument in an amicus brief which they filed on March 26, 2012 in State of Arizona, et. al. v. United States. In that case, the US Supreme Court is reviewing the constitutionality of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law (SB 1070) and, by implication, similar state “deportation by attrition” laws.

The bishops argue that the Arizona law, in its single-minded focus on reducing the unauthorized population “at all costs,” fails to weigh family unity and human dignity concerns, which are central goals of US immigration law. As a result, the bishops argue, the Arizona law is pre-empted by federal law. In addition, the bishops maintain that the Arizona law undermines religious liberty by requiring religious groups to “engage in costly (if not impossible) monitoring of the individuals they serve” and to deny services to unauthorized immigrants. The brief argues that state laws of this kind “are likely to be interpreted to go further in criminalizing mere charity to undocumented immigrants than federal law currently does.” Broad and diverse interpretations of these state laws would, in turn, interfere with the Catholic Church’s “mission and liberty, which transcends the geographic borders in which Catholic organizations operate.” According to the bishops, state laws “could be used to impose liability, even criminal liability, on Catholic institutions” that serve the poor and vulnerable without reference to their immigration status.