Sacramento bishop says sanctuary cities won’t solve the problem

Bishop Jaime Soto: "we need a public discussion among elected officials about immigration reform as a reasonable alternative to the prevailing hysteria on the issue"

Students march on downtown Los Angeles after walking out of class on Nov. 14, demanding for local politicians to declare L.A. County a sanctuary. (Brian van der Brug Los Angeles Times)

Immigrant families in Sacramento and around the country are trembling. They worry their families will be broken up, that their homes, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods will be recklessly invaded and that as many as 2 million people in California may be deported.

Some concerned leaders have invoked the term “sanctuary,” seeking to shelter immigrants and their families from harm, but in the end, these are half-measures that raise people’s hopes but do nothing to provide families with a stable legal status.

Three separate presidential administrations have done little to fix a broken immigration system. Through lack of will or lack of foresight, they have made it worse. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the members of Congress should produce a comprehensive immigration reform bill that provides an opportunity for all of us to be good neighbors for one another. The whole congressional delegation from California – Democrats and Republicans – should take the lead. Meanwhile, we should consider what the word “sanctuary” truly means, and work to achieve it for all our people.

Sanctuary is an ancient, religious word, implying more than just protection from undue threats. In the fullest meaning of the word, a sanctuary is a sacred space where one’s conduct is governed by reverence both for the place as well as for all who enter there. To enter a sanctuary is to find peace and dignity that was otherwise lost or deprived.

In the present political predicament, sanctuary has come to mean a buffer from the drastic, unwarranted consequences of enforcement practices that risk the welfare of families and their communities. The charged polemics surrounding “sanctuary” unnecessarily pit a reverence for law against a reverence for people. The mounting stalemate, since the recent outcome of the election, risks undermining both.

Good law provides a humane, wholesome social sanctuary where all are treated with reverence and respect. A limited, reactionary notion of sanctuary may only harden positions, threatening a further erosion of human dignity and the social fabric.

When it convened in December, the California Legislature passed a round of “sanctuary” legislation, but a resolution supporting comprehensive immigration reform passed quietly with little discussion. That is unfortunate. We need a public discussion among elected officials about immigration reform as a reasonable and practical alternative to the prevailing hysteria on the issue. Comprehensive legal immigration reform should be a common, bipartisan effort to restore a sense of true sanctuary for all of us.

Yet, this urgent sanctuary space is needed not only for migrant and refugee families. Schools should be sanctuaries for learning, not pipelines for prisons. The woman’s womb should be a sanctuary where both the mother and child are respected and protected. Too many families are without the sanctuary of good employment, good housing and safe streets.

The sanctuary movement should not be an impulsive reaction to fearful uncertainty. Returning sanctuary to its true religious origins restores a more divine purpose to our common human endeavors for creating a good society. There is a wider, brighter vision if we all step back into a God-given gaze. There is a language that comes from a deep wellspring of religious hope that is deeply embedded in the American social fabric.

The often-told parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example. We should not limit the sanctuary space to just undocumented immigrants and refugees. All neighborhoods and communities need much mending. Many neighbors need another’s charitable minding. In that well-known Gospel story, a teacher of the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” That question still echoes on many of our streets and tweets. Jesus replied with another question that remains ours to answer, “Who acted as the neighbor?”

From the Sacramento Bee.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Those who have violated the immigration laws of the USA should indeed tremble now that law and order are back, now that we have a responsible President who prioritizes American security. His predecessor deliberately refused to enforce immigration laws as a strategy to create more Democrat voters. That’s over.

    Sometimes I think the chief reason why bishops refuse to state that it is important for America to enforce its immigration laws and to secure its border, and that it is important for would-be immigrants to respect America’s laws is because the Mexican influx has masked the white-flight from Catholic churches. Without Mexicans in the pews, Sunday Mass attendance would be in the low teen percentage.

  2. Steve Phoenix says:

    The whole problem—since now US bishops want to be legislators and political reps, instead of bona fide spiritual leaders—is that sanctuary cities are a blatant violation of US federal law, law duly executed by the US Congress and by many successive presidential administrations.

    Once, long long ago, Catholic church leaders acknowledged the Thomistic concept of civil law governance: laws must be followed, or lawfully changed. When many US bishops (not all), and all their Obama cronies decided to obstruct, pervert, totally violate explicit law—“sanctuary cities—this train wreck became inevitable.

    Now that lives are going to be possibly uprooted, it is the height of hypocrisy for them to sanctimoniously wring their…

  3. Tom Byrne says:

    The term “sanctuary” as used in the Middle Ages meant temporary protection from pursuit in the days when vendetta and not public justice was the ordinary way of settling things. Sanctuary provided a breathing space to allow tempers to cool until the legitimate authority arrived. It was never intended as permanent protection from the consequences of breaking just laws. “Sanctuary cities” pervert this meaning.
    While the good bishops has some valid points, if we have to discuss everything before we decide anything, nothing will get done.

    • Linda Maria says:

      I felt so sorry for the family of young Kate Steinle, ruthlessly and senselessly killed, while walking with her father near the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, in San Francisco. Her life was wrongfully taken by a murderer and drug dealer, who did not belong in this country– yet was allowed into San Francisco, as it is a sanctuary city! Poor girl!

  4. Ann Malley says:

    Let’s talk reckless.

    Those who have erroneously confirmed those who break the law in their continuing to break the law are the reckless one’s here. So, blame shift all you’d like and point fingers at the failure of administrations to address the problems at hand. But, in so doing, Bishop Soto, in order to be fully truthful, should you not also accept responsibility for your administrations failure to properly address this issue in accordance with the laws of the land?

    “The often-told parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example,” of Christ’s words used to inappropriately shame those who are justifiably tending their duty of state. Part and parcel of the abuse of illegal immigrants is done by those who would use said people…

    • Ann Malley says:

      …for profit, not truly caring about their predicament (and helping tend the root of said problem), but rather those who would benefit from the sympathy generated by such poor ones in order to advance their own agenda.

      Purity of intention is critical, your Excellency, to any “good” work. So, whereas you posit that all must be filtered through the lens of the Good Samaratin, I’d suggest we all begin to look at the truth of our individual and group intentions. To include the group think in the hierarchy that makes to shame the state for doing its duty, especially in times of terror, etc.

  5. “Three separate presidential administrations have done little to fix a broken immigration system. Through lack of will or lack of foresight, they have made it worse. House Speaker Paul Ryan and the members of Congress should produce a comprehensive immigration reform bill that provides an opportunity for all of us to be good neighbors for one another..”
    My take on this from B. Soto is that only complete amnesty and open borders would constitute fixing a broken system. If I am wrong, Excellency, tell me what you do mean.

  6. ILLEGAL immigration does VIOLATE the Law. Immigrants are required to OBEY the LAW (and this does not exclude immigration law).
    Catechism of the Catholic Church, second edition # 2241. CCC contains the Doctrine of the Faith.

    However, unless ADDITIONAL CRIMES have been committed there is no need to worry about deportation.

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