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Latino Ministries Worried About Immigration Bill

pdf mise en ligne :24 01 2006 ( NEA say… n° 02 )

ASILE > Perspectives financières

Lawmakers Say Clergy, Doctors Aren't Targeted for Aiding Those Here Illegally By Darryl FearsWashington Post Staff WriterJanuary 17, 2006.

The Cuban immigrant who walked into the Spanish Catholic Center with cancer
was beyond hope. Calmly and sweetly, physician Anna Maria Izquierdo-Porrera
showed him how to die with dignity in his Washington area house.

"Whatever we can do here, we do it," Izquierdo-Porrera said in a cramped
office piled high with yellow files. "I can't see myself ignoring a person
who knocks on my door and says 'I need help.' "

Each year, about 5,000 people walk into the Spanish Catholic Center in Mount
Pleasant, seeking assistance at the most difficult times in their lives.
Nationwide, Catholic agencies serve more than 300,000 "newcomers" through
Catholic Community Services. No questions are asked about their immigration
status.

But Roman Catholic bishops say anti-immigration legislation passed recently
by the House could put that work in jeopardy, even as the drafters of the
proposal say vehemently that those interpretations are wrong and that no
harm is intended.

The sticking point in the arguments is language in a section of the House
proposals, which the Senate is scheduled to take up next month, that would
make it a criminal offense for anyone to "direct or assist" an immigrant
with the knowledge that the person crossed the U.S. border illegally.
Financial penalties and jail time could follow.

Catholic bishops sharply denounced the legislation in late December when it
was passed in the House by Republicans, with a little help from Democrats,
after a stormy debate.

Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James
Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who drafted the proposal, called Catholic
complaints about the bill "a hysteria." He said the proposal merely tweaks
current law so that law enforcement agencies can more aggressively target
human smugglers.

"Everyone seems to understand the intent," Lungren said. "It is intended to
go after smugglers." Speaking to religious opponents, he said: "You say
we're going after you. Well, are people coming after you right now, because
that's the current law?"

Regardless of the drafter's intent, Catholic leaders say, the law's language
is broad, leaving room for zealous prosecutors to target anyone, including
doctors, lawyers, teachers and volunteers who work for Catholic Community
Services. They do not ask for a client's status, but often that information
is volunteered in intimate detail.

"The Catholic bishops and especially those of us here . . . have been very
concerned about this," said Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of
Washington. "We're afraid that if this goes through, it could close the door
all the way for everybody. You take what is illegal and make it criminal,
and that's a frightening thing for us."

It is not just Catholics who are nervous. The Rev. Robin Hoover, pastor of
First Christian Church in Tucson, which delivered more than 37,000 gallons
of water to Mexicans crossing the Arizona desert, wondered if the proposal
would affect his work. Hundreds of immigrants die of thirst each year during
desert crossings.

J. Stuart Taylor III, co-pastor of St. Mark's Presbyterian Church in Tucson
and a founding member of the group No More Deaths, is worried about his
church's mission to save lives of those crossing the desert. The Rev. Joan
M. Maruskin of the D.C.-based Church World Service Immigration and Refugee
Program said the rule as written appears to interfere with Christians whose
mission is "to help the stranger."