Reporting from Washington — Framing the Arizona immigration situation as a "moral crisis," a group of seven Arizona religious leaders, including Catholic and Methodist bishops, descended Thursday on Capitol Hill in an "emergency" visit to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform.
"Our role here is to invite dialogue … on this complex issue with many dimensions," said Bishop Gerald Frederick Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson after a morning meeting with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "The church believes there's a need for respect and dignity, and we speak up for people who have their dignity violated.
"We agree there's a criminal network that has developed and that needs to be addressed," Kicanas said. "But border security alone has its limits on what can be accomplished."
Kicanas spoke before moving on to meetings with officials from the White House and the Justice and Homeland Security departments. The group planned to ask Justice Department officials to, at the very least, try to delay the July implementation of the Arizona immigration law to give Congress more time to act on comprehensive changes. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said Sunday that the department was considering a lawsuit to stall the law, among other options.
The law allows police to demand citizenship papers from suspected illegal immigrants and to detain them if they can't produce proof.
"We are here … not in political capacities but as religious leaders," Kicanas said, "to prod, encourage and advocate comprehensive immigration reform." Kicanas said in a memo to his parishioners last month that the Catholic Church should join lawsuits challenging the Arizona immigration legislation.
Kicanas said the leaders were focusing on McCain because they believe he "has been and continues to be an important voice." McCain, however, has dropped his longtime support for comprehensive immigration reform as he faces a strong Republican primary challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who is attacking McCain's failed 2007 attempt to pass an immigration bill.
The leaders' visit came as polls were released showing the extent of American support for the Arizona law. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released Thursday, 46% of respondents said they strongly supported the measure, and 24% were strongly opposed.
Ten percent of Americans polled called immigration the nation's most important problem in a Gallup survey released Wednesday. It was the highest percentage with that opinion that Gallup had recorded in more than two years.