In a message signed by Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted, Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas and Gallup Bishop James Wall, the prelates described the proposed legislation as "detrimental to public safety," warning that it could divide families.
Pearce's bill makes it a state "trespassing" crime for someone to be in Arizona and be undocumented. It also gives local cops broad authority to arrest those they believe to be in the country illegally, and allows citizens the right to sue a law enforcement agency if it's not pursuing the undocumented to the fullest extent of federal immigration law.
Like many legislators and police associations (other than the nativist Phoenix cop union PLEA, of course), the Bishops are concerned that witnesses and victims to crime will not come forward to law enforcement if they're afraid of being arrested and deported.
The statement reads, in part:
"After all, it is in all of our best interests that all people in our state - regardless of their citizenship status - should not be afraid to report crimes. Anything that may deter crimes from being reported or prosecuted will only keep dangerous criminals on the streets, making our communities less safe.
"Another aspect of these bills that concerns us is that Arizona would become the first state in the nation to codify its own `illegal immigration' law by requiring persons who are here unlawfully in terms of federal law to be charged with trespassing under Arizona law. The charge for the first offense would be a high misdemeanor; for the second offense a felony.
"We understand that supporters of these bills claim that the intent of this `trespassing' law is to allow local police to hold undocumented immigrants who are suspects in crimes.
"However, the bill itself does not limit enforcement to persons suspected of criminal activity, thus leaving the possibility of criminalizing the presence of even children and young persons brought into our country by their parents. If enacted, these bills could lead to separation of family members that would not take place under current federal law."
It's a powerful message, and comes as groups such as Border Action Network, Puente, Somos America, and others are preparing for a large demonstration Wednesday, March 10 outside Governor Jan Brewer's office, demanding that she veto the legislation once it comes to her desk.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.