Arizona Immigration Law Shows Need for Reform: Faith Leaders

Christian leaders across the nation are denouncing Arizona's new anti-illegal immigrant law, saying that the measure reveals more than ever the country's need for comprehensive immigration reform.

The bill (SB-1070), which was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Friday, is the most stringent policy against immigrants in the country, enabling law enforcement officers to demand documentation from immigrants at a moment's notice. The bill also penalizes those who provide aid to illegal immigrants.

"Our current immigration system serves no one well: not those of us worried about our jobs and the future of our children, nor the businesses that need labor that complements our own skills, nor those who want a better life for themselves and for their children. But this Arizona law changes none of that, instead it heightens tensions, crosses constitutional boundaries, and will be intolerably costly. Comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level has never been more needed," said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, President of the National Council of Churches.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of social justice group Sojourners called the law a "social and racial sin" which should be "denounced as such by people of faith and conscience across the nation."

"It is not just about Arizona, but about all of us, and about what kind of country we want to be," Wallis said. "It is not only mean-spirited - it will be ineffective and will only serve to further divide communities in Arizona, making everyone more fearful and less safe."

According to Wallis, the "radical new measure, which crosses many moral and legal lines is a clear demonstration of the fundamental mistake of separating enforcement from comprehensive immigration reform."

"Enforcement without reform of the system is merely cruel. Enforcement without compassion is immoral. Enforcement that breaks up families is unacceptable," he said. "This law will make it illegal to love your neighbor in Arizona, and will force us to disobey Jesus and his gospel. We will not comply."

The Rev. Jan Flaaten, executive director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, said that, "All the religious leaders of Arizona know and understand that this law will not solve the issue of crime along the border or in our state, but it will demonize anyone who looks suspiciously like an undocumented person leading to inevitable racial profiling."

"Our religious traditions ask us to treat people with dignity and respect, and we look for a more enlightened and hopeful way of working with the undocumented people who live along side us," she added.

In a statement issued to Arizona immigrants, Flaaten's group said that, "Our faith community stands in solidarity with immigrants and in opposition to this new law, which we know will have ill effects for the entire state."

"We are here to listen to you and pray with you. We want you to know you are an important part of our faith community and you are not alone," the group said, adding that "there are no easy solutions to this difficult situation."

Governor Brewer, meanwhile, has blamed the Obama administration for giving the state "no other choice" but to get tough on immigration.

"Those who have failed to protect us have shown only weakness and delay,'' Brewer told the East Valley Tribune.

According to Bewer, the White House has, "simply turned a blind eye to the issues that Arizona is being overrun by illegal immigration, terrorizing the citizens.''

"No matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice, we cannot shirk government's principle responsibilities to the citizens we serve to provide safety and security,'' she said.

President Obama responded by calling the Arizona law one that "threatens to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans," and appointed one of his officials to "closely monitor the situation" in Arizona and to "examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation."

Obama also admitted the federal government's shortcomings in addressing immigration, and noted that a "failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others"

"If we continue to fail to act at the federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country," he said.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has given Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) a three-week deadline to wrap up his immigration bill with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) before the democrats move forward on their own. Reid has been a proponent for passing immigration law before the November elections.

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