PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - A bishop in the nation's most heavilyRoman Catholic state is urging federal immigration agents toconsider their morality before carrying out immigration raids.
Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin made the request in a letter tothe U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office inBoston, which was then released Thursday to EyewitnessNews.
The bishop also called on ICE to stop arresting illegalimmigrants in mass sweeps in Rhode Island and to allow agents toabstain from federal raids as conscientious objectors if theyfeel the raids violate Christian teachings.
"If their discernment leads them to the conclusion that theycannot participate in such raids in good conscience, we urge themnot to do so," the letter states. "If ICE agents refuse toparticipate in immigration raids in conformity with their faith andconscience, we urge the federal government to fully respect thewell-founded principles of conscientious objection."
Tobin carries political clout in Rhode Island, where 60 percentof residents call themselves Roman Catholic. The letter is alsosigned by 15 priests.
Tobin's letter comes during a heated debate over illegalimmigration in Rhode Island, where authorities recently raided sixRhode Island courthouses and arrested 31 people, mainly Hispanicimmigrants who are overwhelmingly Catholic. In a separate raid, ICEagents apprehended 42 suspected illegal immigrants in Newport andMiddletown.
In a statement to Eyewitness News, ICE Press SecretaryKelly Nantel said, "While we have great respect for Bishop Tobinand his colleagues, we believe their congregations and communitieswould be better served by helping individuals to comply with thelaw or working to change those laws rather than asking lawenforcement agents not to enforce it."
Roman Catholic and other faith leaders have repeatedlycriticized immigration raids that target migrant workers as opposedto illegal immigrants who are violent or commit crimes. Tobin'srequest is unusual because it suggests the raids are forcingimmigration agents to choose between their jobs and their religiousfaith.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has calledU.S. immigration policies "morally unacceptable" because theykeep families divided, encourage the exploitation of migrants andenable abuse by human traffickers. During an April visit to theU.S., Pope Benedict XVI said the U.S. needs a coordinatedimmigration policy that is humane and provides for the well-beingof families.
The immigration debate erupted in this small state in March whenGov. Donald Carcieri, a Catholic, signed an executive orderinstructing state police and immigration officials to identifyillegal immigrants for possible deportation.
The order also requires executive branch agencies and companiesdoing business with the state to use a federal database to checkthe immigration status of new hires.
Tobin has questioned whether the order was necessary and nowsits on an advisory panel that Carcieri formed to monitor theorder's implementation.
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