This weekend the highly touted Arizona law goes into effect, with a few limitations, thanks to Susan R. Bolton, a U.S. federal judge. It is more than a single law — it is a package of reforms to state laws that will allow state and county officials to step in for the federal authorities of the United States in order to detain any person if there is “reasonable suspicion” of that person being an illegal immigrant.
This law is a response to the electoral pressure imposed by the white majority in Arizona (who make up a little more than 60 percent), who, on the one hand, perceive undocumented people as a threat to the “cultural integrity” of the United States — a mythical idea even in the 13 original states of this country that were already populated with other groups when originally settled. This idea is even more surreal in states like Arizona, where half the towns, rivers and mountains have Spanish names. The other side of this is that the white majority perceive undocumented immigrants as a threat to their rights and privileges.
According to the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, there are between 400,000 and 530,000 undocumented Mexicans in Arizona.
For now the law will only be applied in part; following the federal government's challenge — and surely by the end of the year — the Supreme Court will have to resolve the claims that will be filed.
More important than these actions is the history of the protests by different individuals who are against this law. For example, much publicity has gone to a video from the National Council of La Raza in which various people are asked if they view themselves as Hispanic. The video will be shown in Times Square in New York, on TV stations and on YouTube.
However, there are other organizations working against this law. Among the most prominent are religious organizations: Christian, Jewish and Muslim, among other denominations. These have played a key role in immigrant communities because they often offer the first places for immigrants to integrate into local life.
Religious organizations have a precise knowledge of the problems immigrants face and the contributions they make — with or without papers — to the economy and to public life. This is why since the mid-19th century, churches have promoted reforms in favor of immigrants, as well as facilitated their integration.
In terms of what Catholicism does, it is important to highlight the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that, despite the many difficulties it has faced in recent years, did not hesitate in mobilizing material resources and symbolic capital in support of both immigrants and the efforts that several legislators have made to change the maze of U.S. immigration laws.
A logical consequence of the work of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is the work of civic and social organizations of Catholic inspiration, such as the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., known as CLINIC. Since its creation in 1988 by the U.S. bishops, this organization — which has developed various publications that can be accessed from its website (http://cliniclegal.org/) and social networks like Facebook — is part of an intense lobbying effort to change the perception people have of immigrants in the United States.
CLINIC lobbies for fair and humane laws and puts the family at the center of its efforts, which are based on the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church. These translate into two levels: one, the awareness of the wide range of realities facing immigrants, including the contributions they make to the U.S. economy, and two (the more difficult and labor-intensive one), giving assistance to those facing challenging immigration trials. It is an institution, then, that really takes the principles of Catholic social teaching and transforms them into action.
CLINIC is not the only institution working in this field. In June of this year, the Jesuits who serve as teachers in various U.S. universities — Catholic or not — visited the Capitol at the request of their bishops to present to the delegates a five-point plan with which the Church in the United States proposes to solve the dilemmas of immigration.
This plan can be summarized as a path to legalization that would allow illegal immigrants access to the full rights of citizenship, a structure of legal employment for future workers that will protect citizens and immigrants alike, speedy reunification of families and an emphasis on family unity, and the need for a clear process for applying the humane criteria of the immigration laws, economic development assistance and fair access to markets for developing countries.
It remains to be seen whether these movements will impact the political will of those who seek a "pure" Arizona.