TOPEKA – Citing scripture and the early history of the United States, six Catholic and Protestant leaders from Kansas called on the federal government to act on comprehensive immigration reform.
They advocated for a path to legal citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, though they said those people should perhaps be penalized somehow as part of the process, perhaps with a fine or community service.
"It is just too simplistic to say to them: 'What part of illegal don't you understand?' It also seems unworkable to deport all undocumented immigrants, telling them to go to the back of the line of applicants seeking legal entrance into our country," the faith leaders wrote in a joint statement.
The leaders said undocumented immigrants broke the law coming here. But they said that with the exception of criminals, who should be arrested and deported, most are "God-fearing, church-going, hard-working and family-oriented folk, who just want to have a chance for those things needed to live in human dignity."
Bishop Scott J. Jones, resident bishop of the Kansas Area of the United Methodist Church, said political leaders should try to balance the respect for law with hospitality for illegal immigrants.
The leaders didn't endorse or criticize any specific laws, such as a the voter ID law the state has approved or the Arizona-style law that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is Baptist, helped author.
Instead, they said they want to frame the conversation in hopes of encouraging more civil discourse on the topic of illegal immigration before the 2012 legislative session begins. They plan to send their statement to Gov. Sam Brownback, who is Catholic, and other state and federal lawmakers from Kansas.
It's not helpful to demonize people who oppose or support a pathway to citizenship or other policies, said Most Rev. Joseph F. Naumann, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
"We have these competing rights and interests that we have to balance," he said.
The leaders said the idea to make a statement hatched during an annual meeting of bishops and has been in the works for about a year.
It was signed by Naumann, Jones, Rev. Barry Brinkman, Diocesan Administrator of the Diocese of Salina, Most Rev. John B. Brungardt, bishop of the Diocese of Dodge City, Most Rev. Michael O. Jackels, bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Bishop Gerald L. Mansholt, of the Central States Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.