Churches and Arizona Immigration Law


LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: The reaction for and against the law has reverberated from Main Street through the halls of government to the sanctuaries of churches. This is Bishop Kirk Stevan Smith of the Arizona Episcopal diocese.

BISHOP KIRK S. SMITH (Episcopal Diocese of Arizona): Along with many other religious leaders I think it’s a terrible law. Legal things are important, political things are important, but people’s basic human rights are the most important thing, and that’s where the churches have an obligation, in my way of thinking, to stand up.

SEVERSON: But even among the clergy there is a divide. Religious leaders like the Reverend Tim Smith of Scottsdale, Arizona, support the law. Smith was a nondenominational pastor for 30 years, now a spiritual advisor.

REVEREND TIM SMITH: I think it’s a cry for help from the legislature, from the governor.

Bishop Kirk S. Smith

SEVERSON: Arizona has become ground zero for illegal immigration. It’s estimated that there are nearly 500,000 illegal residents living in Arizona and more streaming in every day. The federal government has dramatically increased the number of border agents, but not enough to stem the flow. Congress has yet to agree on a comprehensive solution. Reverend Smith says that the Arizona law only supports what was already on the books.

REV. TIM SMITH: Essentially, as I read the law and its amendments, it’s an attempt to enforce what has been a federal law since the days of, I think, FDR.

SEVERSON: Illegal immigration has long been a federal crime. The Arizona law makes it a state crime and instructs local police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop for an infraction and arrest anyone they reasonably suspect is undocumented or illegal. If citizens don’t think the police are being vigilant enough they can sue them in court. Supporters say there are enough safeguards to prevent profiling. Critics say the law makes it almost impossible not to profile.

Arizona police come down on both sides. Some say they don’t have the manpower to enforce the law. Another major issue is what is “reasonable suspicion”?

BISHOP KIRK SMITH: The wife of one of our priests who is of Mexican [descent], she was just driving through the neighborhood and was pulled over by a sheriff’s officer, asked to see her identification—which she had, she is an American citizen and has been an American citizen for 20 years—and the sheriff said to her, “If you didn’t have these paper you’d be taking a quick trip back to Mexico.”

post02-churchesaz-smithSEVERSON: Supporters of Senate Bill 1070 say its purpose is to crack down on crime, like that experienced by rancher Robert Krentz. He was interviewed in 1999.

ROBERT KRENTZ: You know, we personally been broke into once, and they took about $700 worth of stuff, and you know if they come in and ask for water I’ll still give them water. That’s just my nature.

SEVERSON: In March, Krentz was murdered. His killing spurred passage of the new law because it was suspected that he was killed by an illegal. Now there is evidence that the killer was not an immigrant. Overall, the violent crime rate in Arizona is down, and so is property crime, and census data show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than legal residents.

REV. RAUL TREVIZO: The legislature would say that this law is intended to stop home invasions, drugs coming across the border, guns being smuggled is absurd. In no way does this law even begin to address those issues.

SEVERSON: Father Raul Trevizo pastors a Catholic parish in Tucson, near the border, of about 4,000 families, many of them undocumented.

REV. TREVIZO: All this law does is put fear in people who are here as economic refugees trying to eke out a living and help themselves and their family back home.

SEVERSON: If it seems that many, if not most religious leaders are opposed to the law, Mark Tooley, a self-proclaimed conservative watchdog, says it’s because they have been the most vocal and, in his view, the most misleading.

Mark Tooley

MARK TOOLEY (President, Institute on Religion & Democracy): They are speaking very dogmatically to a political issue for which there is not direct guidance from the scriptures or Christian tradition, and it really is a political issue that Christians across the spectrum can disagree about.

SEVERSON: But religious opponents of the law say they are simply following the scriptures.

REV. TREVIZO: I believe the fundamental principle of the Old Testament is that we are under full obligation to follow God’s law. Jesus summarized God’s law in the great commandment: love your neighbor as yourself.

SEVERSON: United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano has been a vocal opponent of the law, lobbying anyone in Congress who will listen.

BISHOP MINERVA CARCANO (Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church): Scripture is full of references about the immigrant, and the message is consistent and clear. The message is we are to care for the immigrant. Leviticus says that we are to receive them and treat them as if they were native-born, as if they were citizens, and it also says that we are never to oppress them, and so that’s our job as religious leaders, to hold up our faith values.

BISHOP KIRK SMITH: And of course Jesus’ passage at the end of Matthew where he reminds us in the way that we treat the least among us, the way that we treat the hungry person or the thirsty person or the person in prison, is the way that we treat him.

post03-churchesaz-smithSEVERSON: So you think that obeying the law would take precedence over taking care of the least amongst you?

REV. TIM SMITH: Well, obeying the law is foundational to our society and one of the reasons why the United States has been a haven for people across the years, that there has been a rule of law here and that through that rule of law we can sort out these problems that we have.

SEVERSON: Mark Tooley says scriptures that are often sited don’t really apply to illegal immigration and that religious opponents are not representing the views of their congregants.

TOOLEY: There is a perception that the religious world is for liberalized immigration because those on the more liberal side of the religious world are the most outspoken. So I don’t think that most of these church officials genuinely speak for the constituencies they claim to speak for.

BISHOP KIRK SMITH: I find that totally, totally wrong. I mean, these are our parishioners. I have a parishioner who’s undocumented, whose son who is seven years old said to her this week, “Mommy, what am I going to do when they take you away?” Those are my parishioners. I can’t see how somebody can say you’re out of touch with those people. Those are the people that I serve, and those are the people that I care about.

Bishop Minerva Carcano

SEVERSON: Bishop Carcano says many in her congregation oppose the law, but some are very upset with her position.

(speaking to Bishop Carcano): Have you had people leave or threaten to leave the church over this issue?

BISHOP CARCANO: We have, we have. They’ve left. Some of them are people who leave for a season and then return. Others—we will have lost them, and we pray for them.

SEVERSON: Many in the religious opposition say they can’t back away from their moral obligation even if it means harboring an illegal immigrant, even if it means breaking the law.

BISHOP CARCANO: We know that there are moments in history when we are under laws that are not just, that are not moral, that are not right. We’re called to challenge those. Slavery—it used to be a law to have slaves and to treat them in a certain way. If religious leaders had sat back and said that’s alright, we would have been stuck. We would have been at a very different place over the years and today. There are moments when we must challenge the laws of society.

SEVERSON: The state has taken a huge hit economically since the bill passed. Phoenix officials estimate the city has lost at least $100 million just in convention cancellations, and more keep coming in. Bishop Smith thinks the law will eventually be defeated, but not because of moral or ethical concerns.

BISHOP KIRK SMITH: But I suspect that it will ultimately be defeated because people say, you know, this just doesn’t make sense economically. Everybody is going to lose. This is a lose-lose for everybody. Our pocketbooks are going to lose, and our souls are going to lose.

SEVERSON: Unless court challenges prevent it, the Arizona law is scheduled to take effect after July 28.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly I’m Lucky Severson in Phoenix, Arizona.

  • Leonardo

    The churches in American are desperately recreating and redefining themselves by latching onto and jumping onto the bandwagon issue of immigration. Yes, by all means care for the poor and the marginalized but the Gospels and the Commandments should not be used as an excuse for advocating the flagrant disreagrd and the outright violation of law. Yes, we are a nation of laws. The laws will work if we respect the parameters they are meant to preserve. If we want the protection of the law, then we become documented, we become citizens, we learn to speak English. These are only the same laws that were applied to all immigrants; these are not new laws; nor are they discriminatory laws. Where were these people who advocate that “it’s okay to break the law” when my sister was sent home from school more than seventy years ago because she did not speak English. Oh, so, yes…it’s a different world…the new morality is okay for you, but not okay for me! As ever…Leonardo

  • Fr.Ian Yorston

    It is good for a nation to have laws and regulations and standards. It is these that help to make us great. We also describe ourselves as a Christian nation or at least a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian principles. It is these principles that guide our lawmaking, our interpretation of the law and our cries for social justice. When there have been unjust laws passed, we have objected to them and seen them repealed. Scripture reminds us to treat strangers in the land fairly (Zech. 7:10, Ex.22:21) .It also reminds us that we always have the poor with us (Matt:26:11). Immigrants (illegal and legal) come to this country for a better life. We are a great nation, we will continue to attract immigrants both legal and illegal. and we are a nation of immigrants. We need to remember to treat all immigrants fairly with respect and dignity rather than like criminals.

  • E.Patrick Mosman

    Since the religious leaders interviewed are so opposed to the Arizona law they must be hysterical over the United State Federal law which is more draconian in its enforcement provisions and ultimate legal treatment of illegal aliens. Perhaps they have never bothered to read either law in order to make an informed judgment. Even more harsh is the law of Mexico governing illegal and even legal immigrants on which they are silent even as the President of Mexico, aided and abetted by President Obama, lectures and denounces the American citizens of Arizona. The religious leaders should follow the old maxim, “shoe maker stick to your lathe”, preach the gospel and love of God and neighbor and leave law making and enforcement to the elected officials.

  • E.Patrick Mosman

    “For you will have the poor always with you” Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local mayor or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example of “Love thy neighbor” because he stopped at the nearest inn and asked that a 911 call be made but because he acted, providing aid,comfort and financial assistance to his neighbor.
    Those who claim that Jesus was a big-government socialist provider with regard to helping those in need and reducing individuals personal responsibility to “Love the Neighbor’ and replacing it with government programs is a misreading of His message. Jesus Christ made the point “to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” with no guidelines as to how the Romans were to spend the tax monies.

  • Charlie Black

    I am sick and tired of so called religious leaders who have sold their souls to political correctness, Any Bishiops from the United Methodist Church who reads this please be informed that you do not speak for the vast majority of the memebers of the UMC. when are you Bishops going to wakeup to the fact that you and your liberal views continue to drive millions away from tghe UMC. I may soon be one to leave.
    I am so mad at Arizona that I am going to spend my vacation and my money their in support of that great state.

  • A.Dryden

    I was very dismayed at the one-sided treatment of the Arizona Immigration Law. One of the tenets immigrants seeking citizenship must learn about is the Rule of Law, i.e. everyone must follow the law and no one is above the law. This applies to all laws, not just laws we like. Yes, there is potential for abuse with the Arizona law, but that is true of all laws. The federal law is much stricter than the Arizona law. If the feds enforced its laws, Arizona would not have to pick up the slack. To have federal officials say they will not enforce laws sounds like dereliction of duty to me; possibly grounds for disciplinary action and dismissal. We have laws for a reason. We should either follow the laws on the books or change them

  • Randell danner

    Is it loving your neighbor when i, a white person, could not get a job roofing houses, because i was not Mexican? illegal at that, for the cheap pay. You cannot justify one law, “loving your neighbor” while breaking another law, “obeying the law of the land.” And the law of the land says you have to go through the proper process to come and live in America and be a citizen. IF you break one Commandment you have broken the whole law. If you break one part of your leg the whole leg is broken and useless.

  • Channah

    Wouldn’t illegal immigration be controlled if employers who hired them were arrested and even jailed? It is illegal to hire these people. If there are no jobs to come to, they would stop coming. To me, this seems so plain and simple.

  • amberdru

    Why the dodge of not showing illegal aliens and their advocates protesting for rights on Memorial Day?

    On the day we honor our soldiers who died to protect us from foreign invaders, foreign invaders protest and demand rights they are not entitled to.

  • filomena seiffert

    I am a imigrant, did not cross the border. I do believe in being of good will toward the ones in need, however, the number of ilegal imigrantes is extremaly high, which is very hard on the tax payers. These people are not content with 1 or 2 children, it is 4 and above. The problem is the majority do not pay taxes, the money is sent to Mexico and the children are suported by tax payers. If this is not enough a bunch of them steal from the people and the government. They showed on TV this guy belongins as if had nothing. I garantee the money is in mexico where they bui real estate, open business e other means of retirement. I have heard stories and my owm family had a
    ilegal working for them, the guy stole their merchandise an sold it, use their truck to service it, drove drunk e wrecked the truck. He is still wants money from them. Is suing. He came down without nothing, in 5 years he had $20.000 stashed in Mexico, real estate and who knows what else. Making $ 10.00hr with wife and kids you know the rest.

  • filomena seiffert

    The americans do not want to do all kinds of jobs, however at the present time, I do believe many americans would do any job. It was not so until 2008.
    The problem with Arizona is that it is just puxing ilegals toward other states