Religious Leaders Press McCain on Immigration

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What do you get when you put a rabbi, a mega-church pastor and two bishops together? Half of the Arizonan religious leaders that showed up on Capitol Hill today asking Senator McCain for some answers on immigration.

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, a bright-eyed Methodist leader who looked much more comfortable lobbying than many of her peers, emerged from the senator’s office and told the press that the group came to D.C. because they’re concerned about the controversial immigration law in their state and because they believe it’s gotten as far as it has — beyond the governor’s desk and to the brink of being implemented this July — because federal immigration laws are “broken.”

“We’re very concerned that what we’ve seen in Arizona is flooding over into other states,” Carcaño said, referencing similar laws, which allow (and in some cases require) police to check a person’s immigration status after any lawful stop, detention or arrest — and which opponents argue will lead to racial profiling. “It does nothing to help Arizona. It will do nothing to help those states.” Those states include places from Utah to Missouri, and their number currently hovers around 10. Supporters say that such laws, while perhaps confusing, are being dramatically misinterpreted and that immigration checks only kick in when another law is violated. Hence, the argument goes, racial profiling, at least at its wanton worst, would not be possible.

Bishop Gerald Frederick Kicanas took the mic next and set out roughly what the group feels is missing from current immigration laws. McCain had told them that his shift from a long-time champion of comprehensive immigration reform to supporting the divisive, border-centric Senate Bill 1070, was because of increases in danger — be it from drug trafficking or human trafficking — along the border. While many others have pointed out that political pressure applied by his right-wing primary challenger J.D. Hayworth is a more likely culprit, the bishop said he took McCain at his word. “We need to address these criminal elements,” Kicanas said. “But we need … policy that will provide legal entry for people who need to work and who we need to have as workers … People contend this is a call for amnesty. It is not a call for amnesty but a call for an earned pathway to citizenship for the 12 million people who are in this country without documents and who are now living in the shadows.”

The bishop addressed some of the contentions he has been hearing in his crusade against the law in his most recent Monday memo, a weekly online address. A few examples of arguments he’s come up against, as he laid them out: “You say these migrants and immigrants are not criminals, but they have broken the law. They are criminals. What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” “The Catholic Church is only interested in this issue to appease Hispanics who make up such a large percentage of the Catholic population.” “The Church and its bishops have no right to meddle in politics.” According to a poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center, the Arizona public now supports the law; some measures, such as requiring people to provide documents proving their legal status if police ask them, was supported by more than 70% of respondents. Meanwhile, the nation remains split, 45-46, on their approval of the law. Jan Olav Flaaten, a leader of a multi-faith religious council, said that among leaders of his 18 represented denominations, including some Jewish and Muslim, everyone was “on the same page” in opposing the law, even if their flocks might be more divided.

Gary Kinnaman, the mega-church pastor and father of Christian pollster David Kinnaman, diplomatically described the meeting with McCain as “challenging” because “there are so many emotions about the issue.” He said he planned to talk to Hayworth, too. What would he say? “I would say the same thing that we said to Senator McCain, that we need people who will lead us out of this.”

Meanwhile Flaaten said Hayworth “isn’t a player.” He was also willing to admit that McCain’s position might have political motivations: “I’m not sure that it’s not just a lot of fear-mongering,” he said of McCain’s increased-border-violence justification. “We all kind of know what the political game is, so, yeah, it’s obviously part of what’s happening.” FBI reports have shown that the crime rates in many Arizona border towns, such as Yuma and Nogales, have remained flat over the past decade.

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