Monday, April 14, 2008

Bishop Kirk Smith on Sheriff Arpaio's Round-ups

The Diocese of Arizona has a Spanish language congregation, San Pablo, that has been hit especially hard by Sheriff Arpaio's anti-immigrant round-ups. For those outside of Arizona, our local Sheriff will put huge resources in predominately Hispanic areas of the county. They will look for small infractions--such as broken headlights and the like, with the hope of catching undocumented immigrants. (Meanwhile, thousands of felony warrants go unserved for alleged lack of resources).

Bishop Kirk Smith used his weekly column to point out how a Good Friday round-up hurt San Pablo worshippers:

Thursday night I spoke to a group of about 1,500 members of the East Valley Interfaith, an ecumenical group that works with political leaders to further such causes as public safely, education, health care, and immigration reform. It was apparent from that meeting that Arizona has a major church/state crisis on its hands as it reacts to the tactics used by the County Sheriff in his crusade to catch undocumented immigrants. Last Sunday, he interrupted a confirmation service in a Roman Catholic Church in Guadalupe. Last night the Mayor of Phoenix, the Police Chief, and representatives from the Governor's office were present to hear our concerns. I shared with that group the story of my Holy Week encounter with the Sheriff's Department, and I pass it on to you:

This past Good Friday I was driving home from church services in Tucson when I received a call from the priest at one of our Spanish-speaking churches in Phoenix. Her church is located just off Thomas Road, less than a block away from where our County Sheriff had decided to set up a so-called "command center" complete with trailers, radio towers, search lights, and scores of uniformed officers in SWAT gear. This was described to the press as his home-base for a campaign to catch illegal immigrants who had committed such horrible crimes as having a crack in their windshield or a burnt out headlight. The real purpose of course was to intimate innocent people, and in that he succeeded. Many of the members of are undocumented, and of course they were now afraid to come to Good Friday services. I went to the scene and tried to speak with the officer in charge. I tried to explain to him that not only were his men frightening law-abiding citizens, but they were in fact violating if not the letter, then at least the spirit of the Constitution by preventing people from going to church-it's called freedom of religion. Suffice it to say, the deputy, although polite, was not interested. He had his orders.

Two-thousand years ago the "Sheriff of Jerusalem," Pontius Pilate, handed our Lord over to arrest, torture and death on Good Friday. I wonder if our own Sheriff could not see the irony of what he was doing. But he is not the only one to blame. Round-ups of human beings are what happen when our fears make us forget the principles of our Constitution. Basic rights are violated when we allow self-serving politicians to exploit the lives of men woman and children to boost their poll numbers. Racial profiling is not in keeping with the principles of our country, our moral conscience, and our religious belief. And it has got to stop. Now more than ever we need a humane national immigration policy. Now more than even, Arizona needs the witness of Christians who will encourage our leaders to set fair policy that respects the dignity of every human being. Now more than ever Congress needs to have the courage to make just law, for if they don't, then unjust men will take it into their own hands.

I hope that I never have to witness the again the scene that I saw in this city on Good Friday. And I pray that the crucifixion that so many of our people are now experiencing, can with your help, turn to resurrection. Remember, my brothers and sisters, Pilate tried to put a stop to the power of mercy, love, and compassion. It didn't work then, and it won't work now.

So much for my speech. The struggle, I fear, is just getting started. Both our Mayor and Police Chief have challenged the Sheriff. Religious leaders, myself included, will soon be publishing an open letter in the paper, legal challenges will be mounted. No matter what your views on immigration or your ideas on how to solve this immensely complex problem, the Sheriff's heavy-handed intimidation is not the way. I hope that you will join with me and others in the religious community who are doing their best to balance the laws of our country with the basic human rights of all God's children.

Read it here.

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