A million people marched in Los Angeles, and millions more joined protests around the country, to contest immoral legislation passed by the US House of Representatives last December and now being advanced by Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Senate that would penalize Catholic charities that help immigrants. Entitled the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act," this bill would criminalize the most basic forms of assistance to people from other countries. To their great credit, our bishops have stood up defiantly to this Republican initiative. Roger Cardinal Mahoney, archbishop of Los Angeles, wrote in the New York Times on March 22, "This situation affects the dignity of millions of our fellow human beings and makes immigration, ultimately, a moral and ethical issue. That is why the church is compelled to take a stand against harmful legislation and to work toward positive change."
Some Republicans have broken ranks with their party over the punitive nature of the proposed immigration legislation. Sen Sam Brownback (R--Kansas) was quoted as saying, "This is also about the hallmark of a compassionate society, what you do with the widows, the orphans and the foreigners among you," after he and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham advanced legislation in the Judiciary Committee providing an avenue for the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants to legitimize their status here and earn citizenship contingent on their holding jobs, being free of a criminal record, and paying back taxes.
But conservative groups and legislators that have frequently invoked the views of the bishops on abortion have been harshly critical of them for their stance in support of immigrants. House Majority Leader John Boehner, who frequently invokes his Catholic ties, continues to advocate building a 700-mile Berlin-style wall on the Mexican border in defiance of the bishops. Fr. Richard Neuhaus, editor of the pro-Republican Catholic journal First Things, all but dismissed the bishops' credibility on the immigration issue by saying their authority had been diminished by the sex abuse scandal. ''This is the left wing of the Catholic Church -- these are the frustrated social workers,'' said Catholic Rep Peter King (R—Long Island), quoted in the Times. ''They're giving an incentive for more illegals to come here. I don't think it's right.''
The Catholic League has been utterly silent on the issue of immigration, only issuing a press release condemning two major newspapers for supporting Cardinal Mahoney in his comments about the House bill. The limp Catholic League response indicates once again that it has been reduced from a proud defender of Catholics in public life to a docile partisan organ of the Republicans.
Meanwhile, the bishops have found strong allies among the Democratic Catholics in the Senate, especially Sen Edward Kennedy who has proposed legislation taking more constructive measures to deal with the immigration crisis. The Bishops' Department of Social Development and World Peace has launched a campaign in which they argue that advocacy for immigrants "based on Catholic teachings is an important part of helping the poor and vulnerable around the world." The Church's national collection theme this year is "Jesus in Disguise" and asks Catholics to see Jesus in the faces of the hungry, the poor and the disadvantaged.