Rhode Island's Roman Catholic bishop is calling on U.S. authorities to halt mass immigration raids and says agents who refuse to participate in such raids on moral grounds deserve to be treated as conscientious objectors.
Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin asked for a blanket moratorium on immigration raids in Rhode Island until the nation adopts comprehensive immigration reform. Tobin made the requests in a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Boston.
The letter was released Thursday to The Associated Press.
Tobin's action comes during a heated debate over illegal immigration in heavily Catholic Rhode Island. Authorities recently raided six courthouses looking for illegal immigrant maintenance workers and Gov. Don Carcieri, himself a Catholic, signed an order requiring state police and prison officials to identify illegal immigrants for possible deportation.
"We believe that raids on the immigrant community are unjust, unnecessary, and counterproductive," the bishop's letter says. It urges individual federal agents to consider the morality of their actions and refuse to participate if their conscience dictates.
In such cases, he said, "we urge the Federal Government to fully respect the well-founded principles of conscientious objection."
ICE spokeswoman Paula Grenier said the agency would not comment on Tobin's requests. She did not know if any ICE agents have asked to be excused from participating in raids on moral grounds.
"As an agency, ICE is responsible for enforcing the immigration and customs laws enacted by Congress," she said. "That's our job. We're fulfilling that mandate."
Roman Catholic and other religious leaders have repeatedly criticized immigration raids that target migrant workers, rather than illegal immigrants who commit crimes.
Tobin's request is unusual because it suggests the raids are forcing immigration agents to choose between their jobs and their religious faith.
Tobin is bishop of the Diocese of Providence, which covers the entire state. Some 60 percent of Rhode Island residents call themselves Roman Catholic, a higher percentage than any other state.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called U.S. immigration policies "morally unacceptable," saying they keep families divided and encourage the exploitation of migrants.