By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
In his previous posting, as a priest in Oklahoma, Bishop Anthony B. Taylor was a fervent opponent of state laws state used to launched a crackdown on illegal immigration. Now, a few months after being named the head of the diocese of Little Rock, Ark., Taylor is again taking the lead on the issue.
In November, Taylor published his first pastoral letter since taking his new job. Titled “I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me: A Pastoral Letter on the Human Rights of Immigrants,” it equates the plight of undocumented immigrants to that of Joseph and Mary when they arrived in Bethlehem and asks Catholics to welcome newcomers rather than reject them. [You can download the letter here.]
“I believe that the major current issue about which American Catholics are most confused today has to do with immigration,” the bishop wrote in an introduction.
“The God of the Bible is a God of immigrants and the history of salvation unfolds largely in the context of immigration,” he added in the letter.
In an interview with Arkansas Catholic, Taylor explained that “he believes being able to immigrate to another country is an ‘intrinsic human right.'”
“They do have a right to immigrate when circumstances require,” he said.
The letter was distributed to all parishes at the end of November and the diocese’s web site published a recording of Taylor’s homily explaining his decision. Press play below to listen to it:
In English [audio:http://www.dolr.org/audio/bishoptaylorhomily112308_english.mp3]
In Spanish [audio:http://www.dolr.org/audio/bishoptaylorhomily112308_spanish.mp3]
Taylor’s stance did not go unnoticed. “The hard-eyed zealots on the religious right will say that the new Catholic bishop of Arkansas has gone to meddling,” Ernest Dumas wrote in Arkansas Times.
Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Taylor’s hometown, reported strong reactions on the web “where activists from Americans for Legal Immigration are openly publishing Catholic-bashing comments accusing Arkansas church leaders as ‘pedifiles’ (sic) and the church of ‘looking for more alter boys.'”
State Rep. Bill Sample, a Republican, told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that he plans to introduce anti-illegal immigration bills next year, although he didn’t provide details.
The United States of America has a reasonable and well-defined immigration policy that offers a path to citizenship. It is unreasonable for the bishop to propose that unregulated movement of undocumented people among the borders of sovereign nations in any way supports the common good for the nations, or the migrating people.
Another state representative, Jon Woods, himself a Catholic, said the bishop’s stance “has zero effect on my stance… I was elected by the people of my district to uphold the law.”
Arkansas legislators have already succeeded in passing laws that aim to reduce the presence of undocumented immigrants, like those allowing state troopers and police to act as immigration enforcers, increasing requirements for driver’s licenses, and making undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition at state universities.
There are about 140,000 Hispanics in Arkansas, or close to five percent of the state’s population (estimated in 2007 to be 2,834,797).
Taylor is not the first Arkansas religious leader to support undocumented immigrants. The Times’ Dumas recalled a position taken by former Governor Mike Huckabee, who is also a Baptist minister.
Governor Huckabee, you will recall, had the same notion that Christian faith commanded us to take in illegal immigrants and comfort them. He wanted to give their children scholarships and health services when they needed them. That was before he ran for president and discovered that a phobia of aliens was a main force in the Republican base. He became the fiercest champion of walls and punishing laws.