Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, who crafted a bill that would require immigrants to carry proof of legal status, lashed out at Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony on Wednesday for his criticism of the proposed legislation, calling the Roman Catholic leader a "guy who's been protecting child molesters and predators all of his life."
"He's the last guy that ought to be speaking out," Pearce said on the Michael Smerconish Program, a nationally syndicated radio talk show that airs locally on KFWB-AM 980. "This guy has a history of protecting and moving predators around in order to avoid detection by the law. He has no room to talk."
Pearce's bill, which has yet to be signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, has created a national firestorm as both opponents and supporters bill it as the nation's toughest law against illegal immigrants. The bill would make it a crime to be in the state illegally and would 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.
Pearce's remarks about Mahony drew an equally feisty retort from the cardinal's spokesman, Tod M. Tamberg.
"Mudslinging and fearmongering are the essence of Senator Pearce's remarks," Tamberg wrote in an e-mail. "He desperately wants to change the subject, throwing up a wall of inaccurate statements about Cardinal Mahony because he has no good answer to the cardinal's challenge that this is a draconian and unjust law."
Mahony, who heads the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese with 4.3 million members, lambasted Pearce's bill on his blog this week, 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," the cardinal wrote on his blog. "The tragedy of the law is its totally false reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense."
Pearce said his legislation is not aimed at immigrants who enter the country legally and comply with its laws.
"We love and admire immigrants who come here to assimilate to be Americans," Pearce said. "This has nothing to do with immigration. It has to do with those who enter our country illegally."
The Republican senator said the cardinal was ignoring the plight of countless crime victims of illegal immigrants, including police officers who have been killed and teenage girls who have been kidnapped and raped. In a high-profile recent case, authorities suspect an illegal immigrant shot and killed Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, who was found dead on his property.
"Where does he stand up for America and the rule of law?" the Republican legislator said of Mahony. "He ought to be embarrassed and he ought to be drummed out as far as I'm concerned."
Several police chiefs spoke out Wednesday against the bill, saying that requiring officers to check for illegal status would drain resources away from fighting more serious crime, dissuade immigrants from cooperating with police and subject officers to charges of racial profiling. The Arizona Assn. of Chiefs of Police cited similar concerns in opposing the Pearce legislation.
"This unfunded mandate will strain underfunded police departments and increase their liability," San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón said in a statement. "It will have a catastrophic effect on policing and set back community policing efforts for decades."