June 1, 2012


The Court and immigration

On April 25, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the second of the two most important cases before the court this year. The first was about the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care initiative, what is often referred to as Obamacare, about which we editorialized in our April 20 issue.

This time the issue was immigration. Specifically, it was whether the state of Arizona’s tough crackdown went too far. The Obama administration argued that the federal government has responsibility for immigration laws, not state governments.

The U.S. bishops opposed the Obama administration in the first case mentioned above because of the religious freedom issue.

This time, the bishops are on the federal government’s side. The bishops have long called for comprehensive immigration reform that would include pathways to citizenship for undocumented migrants.

Before the Court’s oral arguments, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted a “friend of the court” brief. It argued that the federal government is in the best position to balance competing goals of enforcing immigration laws while upholding long held American values, such as family unity and human dignity.

Furthermore, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, had an op-ed piece published in The Washington Post.

Among other things, he wrote, “Upholding Arizona’s law would change our American identity as a welcoming nation, which has served us well since our inception.

“The goals of Arizona-type laws are to discourage immigrants from coming, and to encourage those who are here to leave. We must carefully consider whether that is the signal we want to send to the world, given that immigrants and their ancestors—all of us—built this country and continue to renew it.”

The Arizona law, among other things, requires police to check the immigration status of anyone detained and suspected of being in the country illegally.

The case reached the Supreme Court after a federal judge and a U.S. appeals court ruled in favor of the Obama administration and blocked the Arizona law from taking effect.

Only eight of the nine justices heard the case. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself because she worked on the case while she was Obama’s solicitor general. In her absence, if the Court ends in a 4-4 tie, the appeals court ruling for the federal government would be affirmed.

Regardless of the decision, both the case and the immigration issue in general are sure to have implications for November’s election. Republican Mitt Romney has voiced support for the Arizona law. President Obama has vowed to push for immigration reform if he is re-elected, a promise that he also made four years ago.

The issue is particularly important for the Republican Party because its support of laws like Arizona’s is hindering its efforts to attract Hispanics and Latinos. States with heavy Hispanic populations are considered vital in the election.

An article in the April 28 issue of The Economist described the issue as “the nativist millstone” because “Republican policies on illegal immigration are annoying Latinos and becoming a serious handicap in the presidential election.”

As the article points out, Hispanics would seem to be natural conservatives, and Republicans—religious, hard-working and with close family ties—but the immigration issue is overriding.

Meanwhile, a report from the Pew Hispanic Center has revealed that Mexicans are now leaving the United States in greater numbers than they are entering it, whether because of tougher state laws or because they cannot find jobs here as they once did.

In his op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Cardinal Gomez wrote, “In recent years, we have witnessed an alarming rise in the number of undocumented parents being seized, and forcibly removed and separated from their U.S.-citizen children. Arizona-type laws will only increase the circumstances of a child waiting at home for a parent or parents to care for them, only to never have them arrive.”

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles, was among religious leaders at the Supreme Court on the day of the oral arguments. He said that many children had told him they start each morning in fear because they are worried that their parents might be picked up because of their immigration status and never come back.

“We can’t have that kind of fear,” he said.

—John F. Fink

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