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baltimoresun.com

Catholic Church: We need comprehensive immigration reform, not 'Secure Communities' program

1:30 PM EST, March 5, 2012

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The recent article about the expansion into Baltimore of the Department of Homeland Security's program to crackdown on illegal immigrants ("Immigrants, city fear divide over status checks," Feb. 26) makes clear the need for real immigration reform. Programs such as Secure Communities, regardless of aim, are succeeding in spreading fear and division and in threatening the stability of the family. Moreover, the program is altering the relationship between federal immigration enforcement and local law enforcement.

The Catholic Church's concern for the welfare of migrants stems from its belief that immigration is ultimately a humanitarian issue because it impacts the basic human rights and dignity of the human person. The Church believes this dignity is undermined by this program's alleged channeling of immigrants into the criminal justice system through racial profiling and pre-textual arrests for the purpose of vetting them for their immigration status. Because Secure Communities is operated at the point of arrest, rather than post-conviction, it casts a wide net over virtually any immigrant who has come into contact with the criminal justice system.

In other parts of the country where Secure Communities is being operated, some law enforcement officers have denounced the program because it creates a lack of trust between immigrant communities and local police, affecting their ability to investigate crime, assist crime victims and ensure the safety of those communities.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is supportive of the recommendations of the Task Force for Secure Communities, which cited a number of recommendations for improving the program, including improving transparency and strengthening accountability by preventing and providing remedies for civil rights violations. The Bishops also urge that an individual not be detained until he/she has been convicted of a crime that poses a threat to public safety of immigrant communities and families, rather than at the time of arrest.

The Church acknowledges the right of governments to control and protect its borders however the human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected. Programs like Secure Communities as well as overly-aggressive laws such as those passed in states like Alabama and Arizona underscore the need for comprehensive and just immigration reform. Enforcement-only immigration policies will not humanely or effectively fix our nation's broken immigration system. It is time for comprehensive and just immigration reform that provides meaningful and adequate legal avenues for migration, compatible with both our future labor needs and our ongoing prioritization of family unity, and includes the targeted, proportional, and human enforcement of immigration laws.

Mitchell T. Rozanski, Baltimore

The writer is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.