Arizona Religious Leaders Press for ‘Pathway to Citizenship,’ Say U.S. Has Moral Obligation to Stop Influx of Drugs

May 14, 2010 - 4:33 AM
Securing the border is only one aspect of immigration reform. The United States must find 'legal avenues' to deal with people coming into the country illegally as well as those illegal aliens who are already here, the delegation agreed.

Suspected illegal immigrants are detained by law enforcement officials in Phoenix after a drop house was raided Thursday, April 29, 2010. Police said there were nine illegal immigrants and three suspected human smugglers in this raid. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Washington (CNSNews.com) - The United States has a moral obligation to secure the Southwest border against the flow of drugs smuggled from Mexico, according to a delegation of faith leaders from Arizona who came to Washington to press for comprehensive immigration reform. 
 
But the leaders also agreed that securing the border is only one aspect of immigration reform. The United States must find “legal avenues” to deal with people coming into the country illegally as well as those illegal aliens who are already here, the delegation agreed.
 
According to the Justice Department's National Drug Threat Assessment for 2010, one in five U.S. teenagers used drugs last year, many of which were smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico.
 
When CNSNews.com asked the religious leaders if United States has a “moral duty” to secure the U.S.-Mexico border against the influx of drugs, Bishop Gerald Kicanas from the Tucson Roman Catholic Diocese responded, “Absolutely.”
 
“Drug trade is a criminal act, and it is harming young people and harming our societies,” Kicanas said. “The violence among the drug trade is worrisome, and that is why, yes, there needs to be border security, but in it of itself, that is simply not going to solve the problems we face as a country. We need to find legal ways for that to happen.”
 
Bishop Kicanas said the U.S. also needs legal means for dealing with people who are here illegally. He suggested a “pathway towards citizenship,” which he said is not amnesty.
 
“Illegal immigration is not good for anyone,” Kicanas told CNSNews.com. “It’s not good for someone dying in the desert, trying to come into this country to work. It’s not good for country to not know who is entering the country. We need legal avenues, which would prevent the difficulties we currently face.”
 
Bishop Minerva Carcano from the Arizona Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church echoed Bishop Kicanas’ sentiment. She told CNSNews.com the U.S. has a “responsibility” to stop the flow of drugs from Mexico by securing the Southwest border.
 
However, she also said that dealing with the drug flow from Mexico “is one element that is part of this comprehensive immigration reform, but it is simply one element. There are so many other elements.”
 
Rabbi John Linder from Arizona’s Temple Solel said it is the federal government’s responsibility to secure the border, and he suggested that the U.S. provide a “pathway to citizenship” for immigrants already here and for those who are planning to come here.
 
“We need to look at the broader picture for those in this country and a pathway for the workers that are necessary to be able to legally come in this country and have a pathway to citizenship,” Rabbi Linder told CNSNews.com. 
 
Rev. Jan Flaaten, executive director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, said that stemming the flow of drugs coming across the border from Mexico is not only a moral duty, but also a national security issue.
 
CNSNews.com asked Bishop Kicanas how the U.S. should go about securing the border—whether he preferred a virtual fence, a physical barrier, or a combination of the two.
 
“Criminal elements are very clever, they’re very determined, there is a lot of money involved, but if there could be some way to address the issue of allowing people to come into the country who want to work in a legal way, that would also provide border security,” Kicanas said. “Because in fact we would know who is our country and we would know who’s crossing the border and we would be eliminating the criminal element, which is always going to be operative, and then we could focus our border security not on people who are simply coming here to work, but who have real criminal intents.”
 
The Arizona religious leaders talked to CNSNews.com Thursday during a press briefing on Capitol Hill. They also made various stops on Capitol Hill (Sen. John McCain’s office) and elsewhere in Washington (the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department), urging the enactment of immigration reform.
 
All of the religious leaders said they oppose Arizona’s new immigration law making it a state crime to be in the country illegally. The law also allows police to question a person if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the United States illegally. 
 
Faith in Public Life, which sponsored the religious leaders’ trip, has described the Arizona law as “an extreme measure that will likely lead to increased discrimination and racial profiling, and penalizes families and faith communities already living in fear.”   
 
Transcript:
 
CNSNews.com: According to the Justice Department, one out of five teenagers used illicit drugs last year, most of which came from Mexico, Do you think the U.S. has the moral duty to secure the border against the influx of these drugs?
 
Bishop Gerald Kicanas: Absolutely. Drug trade is a criminal act and it is harming young people and harming our societies. The violence among the drug trade is worrisome, and that is why, yes, there needs to be border security, but in and of itself, that is simply not going to solve the problems we face as a country.
 
We need workers, workers need work. We need to find legal ways for that to happen. Illegal immigration is not good for anyone. Is not good for someone dying in the desert trying to come into this country to work. It’s not good for country to not know who is entering the country. We need legal avenues, which would prevent the difficulties we currently face.
 
CNSNews.com: Do you share the sentiment of the gentleman who answered my question?
 
Bishop Minerva Carcano: Yes, we do have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to protect our young people and protect our citizens and certainly that is a concern. That is one element that is part of this comprehensive immigration reform, but it is simply one element. There are so many other elements.
 
Rabbi John Linder: Yes, I think it’s a responsibility of the federal government to secure the border. Certainly with drugs coming across the border – and I appreciate Sen. McCain’s focus on that and share the views of my clergy partners here that that’s not the only focus of a healthy immigration policy -- that we need to look at the broader picture of those in this country and a pathway for the workers that are necessary to be able to legally come into this country and have a pathway to citizenship.
 
Rev. Jan Flaaten: I think it is a moral duty, but it’s actually a national security issue -- a national security issue that really, I mean there is a criminal element that does come across, and we need to deal with that and we don’t, you know, we are as a religious community, we want to kind of help people, build people up and not tear them down with either drugs or violence.
 
CNSNews.com: How do you think the U.S. should go about securing the border? Do you favor physical barrier over a virtual, virtual fence or do you think a combination of both should be used?
 
Bishop Kicanas: Border security, I believe, has it limits on what it will be able to accomplish. Criminal elements are very clever, they’re very determined, there is a lot of money involved, but if there could be some way to address the issue of allowing people to come into the country who want to work in a legal way, that would also provide border security because in fact we would know who is our country and we would know who’s crossing the border and we would be eliminating the criminal element, which is always going to be operative and then we could focus our border security not on people who are simply coming here to work, but who have real criminal intents.