Church and state

March 07, 2006

Recent raids at three popular Baltimore sushi restaurants that allegedly employed illegal immigrants are part of the federal government's beefed-up efforts to go after employers who hire undocumented workers. Immigration authorities have promised more such raids here and across the country.

Though cracking down on employers makes sense, it's no substitute for fixing the country's broken immigration system. Such raids might deter smaller businesses, but the labor demands of certain industries and the economic benefits to employers and immigrants desperate for work will continue to drive employers to risk being raided. There are clearly a whole lot more jobs than there are immigration agents at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

That's why immigration reform legislation being debated in Congress must regulate the flow of migration and tie it to U.S. labor needs. The Bush administration has called for a guest-worker program that would allow foreign workers, including those already here, to work legally in the United States for up to six years and then require them to return home.

A comprehensive bipartisan measure sponsored by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John McCain would do this and more. But the serious consideration and support their legislation deserves is being overshadowed by a less practical measure that would severely punish undocumented workers and even make it a felony for religious groups and charitable organizations to help them on humanitarian grounds. The House has approved the stricter measure; the Senate should reject it. It runs counter to American ideals.

The government is forcing churches and other religious institutions to choose between taking a moral stand and breaking a law they find immoral. Catholic archdioceses around the country have urged their priests and parishioners to defy the law if it is passed.

Members of St. Michael and St. Patrick Parish in Southeast Baltimore are scheduled to rally against the legislation at the Capital today. Cardinal William H. Keeler said they would "speak with the voice of the prophets" and call on legislators "to ensure a comprehensive solution to our immigration crisis rather than a quick fix which would deny rights to some of the most vulnerable in our society."

To that we say, amen.

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