Ray Henry, AP, August 21, 2008
Rhode Island’s Roman Catholic bishop is calling on U.S. authorities to halt mass immigration raids and says agents who refuse to participate in such raids on moral grounds deserve to be treated as conscientious objectors.
Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin asked for a blanket moratorium on immigration raids in Rhode Island until the nation adopts comprehensive immigration reform. Tobin made the requests in a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Boston.
The letter was sent Tuesday and publicly released Thursday.
Tobin’s action comes during a heated debate over illegal immigration in heavily Catholic Rhode Island. Authorities recently raided six courthouses looking for illegal immigrant maintenance workers and Gov. Don Carcieri, himself a Catholic, signed an order requiring state police and prison officials to identify illegal immigrants for possible deportation.
“We believe that raids on the immigrant community are unjust, unnecessary, and counterproductive,” the bishop’s letter says. It urges individual federal agents to consider the morality of their actions and refuse to participate if their conscience dictates.
ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the agency respects Tobin but believes his diocese “would be better served by helping individuals to comply with the law or working to change those laws rather than asking law enforcement agents not to enforce it.”
Roman Catholic and other religious leaders have repeatedly criticized immigration raids that target migrant workers, rather than illegal immigrants who commit crimes.
Tobin’s request is unusual because it suggests the raids are forcing immigration agents to choose between their jobs and their religious faith.
Tobin is bishop of the Diocese of Providence, which covers the entire state. Some 60 percent of Rhode Island residents call themselves Roman Catholic, a higher percentage than any other state.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called U.S. immigration policies “morally unacceptable,” saying they keep families divided and encourage the exploitation of migrants.
While the bishops’ conference has said the federal government has a right to launch raids, it believes they are often counterproductive, said Kevin Appleby, director of the conference’s Office of Migration and Refugee Policy.
He said Tobin’s letter is unique because it asks that ICE agents be excused from raids on religious or moral grounds.
As the illegal immigrants were being arrested, the state police superintendent assured Tobin and other clergy that his officers would not launch immigration raids. State police later said they were just assisting in a federal investigation.