Immigration is the responsibility of the federal government, and laws passed should treat the undocumented with dignity, respecting the disadvantaged, families and children, Oklahoma Catholic Church leaders said Monday. A joint statement released by the Most Rev. Paul Coakley, archbishop of Oklahoma City, and the Most Rev. Edward Slattery, bishop of Tulsa, said immigration laws are necessary, but new laws should focus on the country’s dependence on undocumented workers, fair wages and working conditions and a path to legal status that “will bring these undocumented persons out of the shadows, where they are so easily preyed upon by human traffickers and unscrupulous profiteers.” Citing biblical tenets, Coakley and Slattery state Catholic social teachings stress treating neighbors as “brothers,” particularly when it comes to those who are underprivileged.
Author defends billSen. Ralph Shortey, primary author of the Senate Bill 908 and a freshman senator who campaigned on immigration enforcement issues, said he doesn’t disagree with most of the church’s statement. “I’m a Christian person,” Shortey said. “The contention comes when we’re using state resources to further an illegal activity.” Shortey said the legislation he proposed merely supports federal law. His bill would allow local and state law enforcement officers to arrest a person if there is reasonable suspicion to believe he or she is in the country illegally. It says officers can’t use race, color or nationality as the reason. “We are concerned also that these immigration bills will have the intentional or unintentional effect of instilling fear in an already vulnerable population,” the bishops said. Much of the language in Shortey’s bill mirrors Arizona’s immigration law. A New York Times editorial published March 4 mentioned Oklahoma as one of several states “pushing Arizona-style copycat laws” and “crackdowns” as a result of the federal government’s inaction on the issue. “Immigration panic” and a lack of “saner voices” have allowed extremism to emerge in states like Oklahoma, the editorial stated. Religious leaders are specifically mentioned as offering calm and sober perspective in the often rancorous exchange.
Federal action soughtPatricia Fennell, president of the Latino Community Development Agency, said the debate about immigration has been injected with stereotypes and untruths about undocumented immigrants abusing social welfare programs and taking away the jobs of citizens. “We’ve lost touch of moral principals and ethics, and we’ve dehumanized human beings trying to get a job, not a free ride,” Fennell said. She said everyone agrees the federal government must take on the issue. Shortey said the intent of the laws is to force the federal government to take on immigration and to make sure illegal immigrants are forced out. “The archdiocese has suggested that we help them,” Shortey said. “However, the majority of people here don’t want them, and they have a law behind them.” The church recognizes the right of governments to protect their borders, the church leaders said. “We steadfastly believe that, since everyone is created by God, human dignity and human rights are not commodities to be allocated according to nationality,” they stated. Shortey said while he can’t judge the content of a person’s heart, he can judge “the fruit of their being in America unlawfully.” “It’s their responsibility to accept the consequences of those actions,” Shortey said.