Bishop says mail response to immigration letter has been vile
By Karen Lee Ziner
The Providence Journal Staff Writer
07:34 AM EDT on Thursday, September 11, 2008
PROVIDENCE In the month since Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin and 15 pastors called on federal authorities to halt immigration raids in Rhode Island, hundreds of responses have poured in, many reflecting a disturbing vitriol, the bishop said.
While numerous responses have been reasoned and positive, others have been vile and violent, Bishop Tobin said.
For example, I received one letter calling me a traitor to the nation and telling me to get the hell out of the country and take my Mexicans with me. Thats a sample of some I received, and some I cant even say and you cant even print, the bishop said.
Bishop Tobin reflected on those letters as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops yesterday issued a similar call to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and President Bush to reexamine the use of worksite enforcement raids as an immigration enforcement tool.
The humanitarian costs of these raids are immeasurable and unacceptable in a civilized society, said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.
Stating that the raids have separated children from parents, prevented due-process rights of those arrested, and disrupted the lives of all immigrants, the USCCB has asked that Homeland Security implement immediate and effective safeguards to avoid humanitarian fallout.
If not, federal authorities should abandon the raids altogether, Westers letter said.
The bishops group asked Homeland Security to specifically refrain from immigration arrests at churches, hospitals, community health centers and other agencies that provide humanitarian relief; help arrested individuals find meaningful legal representation that thoroughly informs them of their legal rights and options; and allow family members to remain together and locate each other during and following such raids.
It asks that such enforcement actions be conducted in a manner that preserves basic human dignity: immigrants who are working to survive and support their families should not be treated like criminals.
Absent the effective and immediate implementation of these safeguards, we believe that these enforcement raids should be abandoned, Wester wrote.
The USCCB letter struck similar themes as the August letter that Bishop Tobin and the 15 pastors many from Hispanic churches sent last month to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements regional office in Boston, requesting a moratorium on raids here until the country can implement comprehensive and just reform of our immigration laws.
It referred specifically to recent raids on Aquidneck Island in July and at state courthouses in August, calling them so unnecessary and unjust as to be immoral.
Tobin and several of the pastors noted that the raids and Governor Carcieris executive order cracking down on illegal immigration have created a toxic atmosphere in Rhode Island.
Their request for a moratorium, believed to be the first by a Roman Catholic bishop in the country, also asked ICE agents to refuse participation in the raids if they cannot do so in good conscience.
Tobin said he has since received roughly 300 e-mails, letters, faxes and other responses from around the country, as well as a good deal of reaction from inside the state, much of that pretty negative.
Tobin said positive reaction has come from priests, religious and lay persons who I think are being supportive of what Im trying to say, which is basically, lets fix a broken immigration system, and in the meantime lets just try to be decent and compassionate to the undocumented people who are here in the state with us.
Said Tobin, I know its a very emotional issue for people. I guess I certainly welcome and affirm the need to debate these policy issues. Im also pretty disappointed in the tone of some of the responses I received. Some of it has been really vile and violent and angry and thats coming from people alleging to be people of good conscience and goodwill, and Im not sure I understand the anger and the violence.
He added, I think thats what we should reject as a civilized society.
The bishop provided copies of several letters and e-mails.
One e-mail stated, You sir are a disloyal traitor to my country and to my forefathers that allowed your pathetic drunken disloyal ancestors here in the first place. GET OUT OF OUR AMERICA BEFORE WE THROW YOU OUT OURSELVES. TAKE YOUR BELOVED MEXICANS WITH YOU WHILE YOURE AT IT.
A supporter wrote, Although I am sure you will receive much criticism for your stand, I know in my heart that in placing your authority and position behind these most needy people of God, you are truly following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
An e-mail whose subject line states: Bishop Tobins whining about illegal immigrants, instructs Tobin to Grow up! And stay out of the politicking business or get out of the church.
Finally, another accused the bishop of protecting people who are here illegally and committing crimes, and questioned, Do you honestly think Jesus would forgive these illegals for stealing? They are sinners.
Tobin said during an interview after he sent the letter that while the laws of the land must be enforced, Gods law must also be followed. I know for sure what Jesus would not do, the bishop said. He would not sweep into a community, gather up large groups of people, separate family members from one another and deport them to another country. I know for sure he would not do that.
Meanwhile, Tobin said that since he and the pastors sent their letter to the Boston ICE office, two members of the Roman Catholic Diocese have met with ICE representatives, and another meeting is planned. His spokesman, Michael Guilfoyle, said the meeting was very positive.
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