Action Alert!

Conviction first, arrest later?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 06, 2012

Unless you enjoy speaking about political issues exclusively in bumper-sticker slogans, you should recognize that immigration is a complex issue. The American bishops are right to insist that all immigrants, legal or not, should be treated with respect for their fundamental human dignity. But the bishops do not help matters when they make thoroughly illogical arguments. Consider this remarkable passage from today’s CWN story:

Auxiliary Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Baltimore said that an illegal immigrant should “not be detained until he/she has been convicted of a crime that poses a threat to public safety of immigrant communities and families, rather than at the time of arrest.”

Then what if an illegal immigrant is convicted of a crime that threatens the safety of non-immigrants? Presumably Bishop Rozanski would agree that he should be detained. But that’s not what his statement said.

Worse, the bishop’s statement says that an immigrant should be detained only after he has been convicted. But he won’t be convicted unless he’s brought to trial, and he won’t be brought to trial unless he’s arrested, and if he’s arrested, he’s detained.

I know, I know. Bishop Rozanski means that he should not be detained by Homeland Security officials, under the terms of the Secure Communities program. His case should proceed through the normal court system before it becomes a matter for immigration enforcement. That’s not an unreasonable argument (although I would disagree with it). But the bishop’s actual words suggest something else.

Again and again, American bishops have issued public statements that convey the impression they would oppose any effort to curtail illegal immigration. If they made a few careful distinctions, and acknowledged the complexity of the issue, they would be more effective advocates for immigration reform.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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