By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Northeast Mississippi’s Catholics are encouraged to fast and pray on Friday in opposition to proposed state legislation that church leaders believe could lead to unfair treatment of Hispanics.
The Most Rev. Joseph Latino, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, has called for a day of peaceful protest to Senate Bill 2179.
Among other provisions, the bill would require law enforcement personnel to check the immigration status of any person they suspect of being in the country illegally.
It also would impose strong restrictions against businesses hiring undocumented immigrants.
Versions of the Arizona-style legislation have passed both the House and Senate and are now in a conference committee where representatives will try to work out a compromise.
The Rev. Tom Lalor, pastor of St. James Catholic Church in Tupelo, said the bill could lead to racial profiling of Hispanics and foster an environment of fear and distrust.
“We’re certainly not against laws. We have to have laws, but we’re concerned about certain elements of this bill that might cause undue hardships to our Hispanic brothers and sisters,” said Lalor.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census, Hispanics make up nearly 2 percent of Lee County’s population. Many of those Hispanics are Catholics.
In a news release, Latino said he doesn’t believe the Senate bill will remedy a “broken system of immigration,” and could, in fact, “make the local situation worse.”
Returning from a Tuesday meeting in Jackson in which diocesan clergy discussed the bill with their bishop, Lalor said he fears it will encourage authorities to become overly aggressive in pursuing undocumented immigrants.
According to Lalor, churches around the diocese often have helped support Hispanic families when the breadwinner has been arrested or deported, and he’s afraid the proposed legislation will magnify the problem.
Latino acknowledged the need for immigration reform, but added that it must be “rooted in justice and the dignity of the human person.”
Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.