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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 20, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 6Oakland, CA

House immigration bill yields harsh criticism

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony has lashed out at anti-immigrant feelings in the United States and asked Catholics to dedicate their Lenten prayers and practices to helping immigrants.

He also said that archdiocesan priests and pastoral workers are going to continue offering services to people in the country illegally even if such efforts are outlawed.

Cardinal Mahony called a recent bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, which would penalize people who aid illegal immigrants, a “blameful, vicious” bill.

“Anyone who does anything for someone here who doesn’t have documents would be a felon under this bill,” the cardinal told The Tidings newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

“And it targets everybody, churches included. So on its face value, it means that anyone coming for Communion or baptism or to be married, I should stop and ask to see their legal papers,” he said.

“That’s absurd, and we’re not going to do it -- even if Congress says we have to. We’re not going to be immigration officers. Our role is spiritual and pastoral, and that’s going to prevail. But the foolishness of this whole out-of-control thought process is just astounding,” he said.

A separate immigration bill is expected to reach the Senate floor by the end of the month. In addressing provisions in that bill, Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, called on Senators to “put undocumented laborers and their families on the path to lawful permanent residence and citizenship” and to “create greater legal avenues for necessary workers to enter this country.”

In an interview last month with the Los Angeles Times, Cardinal Mahony said there is a “hysterical” anti-immigrant attitude sweeping the country spurred by security fears in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

The cardinal criticized the Minuteman Project, a private group that tries to police portions of the U.S.-Mexican border, as undertaking a misguided approach to security concerns.

“The war on terror isn’t going to be won through immigration restrictions,” he told the Times, because terrorists are not going to walk through long stretches of desert to sneak into the U.S.

Cardinal Mahony told The Tidings that security concerns have caused people to look for a scapegoat in illegal immigrants because they often cannot fight back.

California’s limping economy is also fueling anti-immigrant sentiment locally, he added.

Anti-immigrant feelings would not have risen to such a fever pitch on radio talk shows and in legislative halls if families were not struggling to make ends meet, he said.

Hostility also greeted other waves of immigrants to the U.S., such as the influx of Italians and Irish at the turn of the 20th century, said the cardinal.

“Sometimes we romanticize early immigration in this country as if it were all very peaceful, and everybody was very happy to see the Italians and Irish come,” he said. “But it was the same reaction as now.”

The cardinal noted that members of immigrant families are often among those critical of new immigrants.

“Strangely, there’s a phenomenon that for some reason many immigrants, when they come here and get settled, slam the door behind them,” he noted. “And everybody else who wants to come after them now is an outsider.”

The Catholic message regarding the welcoming of strangers often appears countercultural, he said.

God wants Catholics “to see in others the face of Christ -- not to see a threat or an alien,” he said.

“That’s why it’s a hard pill to swallow for some people, including Catholics. It’s because we’re focused on what we perceive to be a threat,” he said.

(Contributing to this story was R.W. Dellinger in Los Angeles.)

Nancy Mondragon from St. Jerome Parish in Chicago holds up a crucifix during a March 10 demonstration against pending immigration legislation. More than 100,000 people packed Chicago’s Federal Plaza in Chicago after marching from the West Side of the city to rally against a House-passed immigration bill that calls for tougher border protection and stiffens penalties for undocumented immigrants and those who help them.

CNS PHOTO/Karen Callaway

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