Denver – Catholics should be politically active at both the local and national level to promote a humane reform of immigration law is the message coming out of a conference in Salt Lake City sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
"The USCCB doesn't support any state immigration accord, though the dioceses and the state Catholic bishops conferences have done so," Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy and public affairs for the USCCB, told Efe from the Utah capital.
"At the same time, we believe that those accords are useful tools to defend immigrants' rights and to change the characteristics of the immigration debate," he said.
The 300 or so Catholic prelates and activists meeting this week in Salt Lake City are analyzing harsh anti-immigration measures enacted by states such as Arizona and Alabama.
Also on the agenda is a review of the impact on immigrant communities of programs such as Secure Communities, under which state and local law enforcement agencies are required to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
"Given that Congress has not been able to fix our broken immigration system, the front in the immigration debate has shifted to the states and local communities," Appleby said.
"Recognizing that the solution must come at the federal level, the conference provides participants the knowledge and skills to respond at the local level," he said.
The Salt Lake City gathering includes legal-services providers, leaders of pro-immigrant groups and church administrators from across the United States.
The keynote speaker at Wednesday's opening session was Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester, who pointed to the Catholic Church's role in promoting the Utah Compact and a similar agreement in Iowa, both attempts to moderate the tone of the immigration debate.
Indeed, he said, one reason why the USCCB decided to meet in Salt Lake City was the adoption in late 2010 of the Utah Compact.
That document, supported by a broad cross-section of business, civic and religious leaders, insisted that Utah lawmakers should take into account factors such as the welfare of families and the needs of the economy in any state laws on immigration.
What happened in Utah showed the potential for progress when people with "differing points of view" work together in good faith, Wester said.
"The respective parties came together and essentially said, 'OK, we have a real issue here. What are we going to do about it? These are real human beings here. This isn't some abstract political debate. These are real human beings who are suffering,'" the bishop recounted.