Wading back into the growing debate over illegal immigration, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony on Tuesday denounced what he called “hysterical” anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping California and the nation.
In an interview on the eve of Ash Wednesday, Mahony said he planned to use the first day of the Lenten season to call on all 288 parishes in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, the nation’s largest, to fast, pray and press for humane immigration reform. U.S. Roman Catholic bishops support proposals for a guest-worker program, legalization of undocumented immigrants and more visas for migrants’ families.
Mahony also criticized efforts by the Minuteman Project and other immigration control groups to police the border, saying that such efforts were a misguided reaction to national security concerns.
“The war on terror isn’t going to be won through immigration restrictions,” he said, adding that Al Qaeda operatives would not trek through miles of deadly desert to infiltrate the nation.
As spiritual leader of the 5 million-member archdiocese, Mahony adds a powerful voice to what has become an acrimonious debate over illegal immigration, coming as the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee takes up a series of proposed immigration controls this week.
In his most forceful comments to date, Mahony said he would instruct his priests to defy legislation—if approved by Congress—that would require churches and other social organizations to ask immigrants for legal documentation before providing assistance and penalize them if they refuse to do so. That provision was included in the immigration bill recently passed by the House of Representatives; a similar proposal is in the version that the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin debating this week.
Although some parishes engaged in civil disobedience during the sanctuary movement to harbor Salvadoran refugees during the 1980s, Mahony’s call to all priests to defy the law would mark a first for the cardinal.