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Catholic Bishop Anthony Taylor said at a press conference today that he hopes to head off bad bills in the legislature that would harm "undocumented immigrants" with the pastoral letter the blog mentioned yesterday.

"My hope is that the Arkansas legislature will do what Jesus would do," Taylor said, and "welcome the stranger." He said he'd be glad to meet with legislators, especially Rep. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, who is said to be working on legislation to stem the tide of Hispanic immigration into Arkansas -- and who is a Catholic.

Taylor, who became head of the Arkansas dioceses in April, came to Arkansas from Oklahoma, which passed one of the country's toughest immigration law last year. The law punishes employers of illegal immigrants with suspended business licenses, makes it a felony to give an illegal immigrant transportation or shelter and denies them other public benefits. Even feeding an illegal immigrant is considered aiding and abetting.

"People have a God-given right to immigrate" when circumstances demand it, Taylor said, and he'll spread that word with the letter and his taped homily that played at Catholic churches on Sunday.

(More on the jump.)

Taylor said he hoped to clear up "confusion" among Arkansas Catholics -- which has a substantial Hispanic population -- about the issue, particularly the fact that he calls them to, in effect, disregard the law of the land. Current U.S. immigration law is unjust, he said, "and we can't participate in an injustice." He added that he is not promoting illegal immigration, but "saying the law misses the mark."

Taylor said also he believes many don't understand how difficult it is to enter the country legally and are unaware of the consequences of deportation on families. Once informed, he said, those who previously were troubled by illegal immigration have a "conversion experience." 

Taylor, speaking at the Catholic Diocese office at St. John's in the Heights, said the story of the Bible is one of immigration, from Moses leading his people out of Egypt audience to Mary, Joseph and Jesus' journeys from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt. "Many Joses and Marias and Jesuses" are coming north, he said, and we should make room for them.

The pastoral letter is an "authoritative teaching," Taylor said. "There's no claim of infallibility."

For background on Taylor, see Mara Leveritt's cover story published last May in the Times.

 

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