Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony lambasted legislation passed Monday by Arizona lawmakers that would crack down on illegal immigrants, likening it to "German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques" that compelled people to turn each other in.
"The Arizona legislature just passed the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law," he wrote on his blog. "The tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense."
Mahony is the head of the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese and a powerful, influential voice among Catholics and others nationwide. His comments are the highest-level statement from the Catholic hierarchy on the Arizona legislation. The Los Angeles archdiocese is nearly 70% Latino.
The Arizona legislation, which has yet to be signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, would make it a crime to be in the state illegally and require law enforcement officers to check the legal status of those they suspect are undocumented. The legislation would also bar people from soliciting work or hiring workers under certain circumstances, a provision aimed at the day-labor trade.
But it would not require people to report suspected illegal immigrants to authorities, as Mahony intimated. An earlier version of the bill that would have required all public agencies to report unlawful migrants to federal authorities was amended to mandate such action only from law enforcement officers "when practicable."
Mahony, an outspoken supporter of immigrant rights, asserted that the nation needs immigrant labor as it faces the retirement of millions of baby boomers.
He urged the nation to instead direct its energy toward passage of a comprehensive immigration refom bill that would better balance the nation's labor supply and demand.
Mahony's blog remarks drew criticism, particularly his references to Nazi and Communist repression.
"I think it's frankly bizarre and the cardinal should apologize for dredging up that old imagery," said Joe Hicks, a commentator for the conservative online news network PJTV.com.
Hicks said he was sympathetic to Arizona's struggles in dealing with soaring illegal immigration amid economic crisis. The state's illegal immigrant population increased 70% from 2000 to 2008, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.
"They did what they thought was right and proper," Hicks said, adding that the state was bearing the brunt of the federal government's failure to control illegal immigration.
In Arizona, leaders from the Roman Catholic Church and other faith communities also criticized the legislation and planned to ask Brewer to veto the bill. In a letter, the faith leaders called on Brewer to show "great political courage" and veto the measure, which they said could hurt the economy by driving down business and reduce public safety by diverting police resources and dissuading illegal immigrants from reporting crime.
Tucson Diocese Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who helped spearhead the letter, said parishes in his diocese have participated in "immigration academies" to learn about the issue and how Scripture and church teachings apply to it. In Leviticus, for instance, God instructs Moses not to mistreat aliens and to welcome them as if they were native-born.
"It's pretty clear that all of our religious traditions speak of welcoming the stranger and assisting people in need," Kicanas said. "I believe this is a drastic, punitive measure that will not benefit the states."