Saturday, December 23, 2006

Minnesota's Seven Bishops Lambaste Swift & Co. Raid and Arrests by Feds as "Divisive"

A group of Minnesota bishops released a strongly worded statement of protest against recent federal immigration raids on Swift & Co. plants — particularly a raid in Worthington, Minn. — saying the action had divided families, disrupted communities and did nothing to advance "needed" immigration reform.

"All the (Christmas) lights are out in that town. This is the land of light and brightness and safety, and they're hiding," Bishop Bernard Harrington, of the Winona Catholic Diocese, said Friday of immigrants in the Worthington community. The Winona Diocese covers the Worthington area.

The statement, released by the Minnesota Catholic Conference and signed by seven prominent church leaders — including Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — led off by lambasting the raids taking place on an important Latino Catholic holiday: the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas. The bishops said the decision added "insult to injury."

"That is the surprising thing, to think that the immigration service that worked on planning this thing for three months and then choosing that day," Harrington said. "It would be like having a raid in our houses on Christmas Day. There's an evilness to do it on that day. There's an evilness."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Tim Counts said the raid occurred at the time when the office was able to coordinate more than 1,000 agents in six states.

"The date was chosen only because, logistically, everything came together that day," Counts said. Counts declined to comment on whether immigration officials should have known about the holiday.

"They have to have known. If they don't know, the guy deserves to be fired, he's so dumb. He is just plain incompetent," Harrington added.

The bishops went on in their statement to say that the raids "heartlessly divided families, disrupted the whole community of Worthington and undermined progress that that city had made toward bridging racial and cultural differences."

"Such raids … violate the rights of workers and the dignity of work. These men and women are our brothers and sisters; as workers, they provide our food; as residents, they support our local businesses and communities."

Counts maintained the Dec. 12 raid "was carried out with care and respect toward each person arrested." He noted that about two dozen of the 230 arrested were released on their own recognizance for "humanitarian reasons," such as to care for a child.

About 20 of those arrested were criminally indicted for document fraud; 15 of those also were indicted for aggravated identity theft.

Parts of the statement mimicked a legislative agenda put forward recently by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, calling for "comprehensive immigration reform, including a broad legalization program."

"In the end, our immigration laws should be just and humane and reflect the values — fairness, opportunity, and compassion — upon which our nation, a nation of immigrants, was built," the Rev. William Skylstad, president of the national Catholic conference, said in June.

"They (local bishops) wanted to at least direct some language toward the national effort," said Chris Leifeld, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic conference.

President Bush has backed a "guest worker program" offering temporary legal status and some civil protections to undocumented workers. Many in the Republican Party oppose the measure.

Other Minnesota bishops to sign the statement are John Nienstedt of the New Ulm Diocese; Richard Pates of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis; John Kinney of the St. Cloud Diocese; Victor Balke of the Crookston Diocese; and Dennis Schnurr of the Duluth Diocese. Pioneer Press

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