- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The immigration bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday eases the concerns of religious and humanitarian aid workers, who feared they would face criminal charges for helping illegal aliens.

But many religious and humanitarian aid groups still worry about a provision in the House-passed immigration bill that they say would criminalize such assistance.

The issue has become among the most debated in the immigration battle.

“We’re not talking about a legal debate anymore; we’re talking about a moral one,” said Cristina Lopez, deputy executive director of the Center for Community Change, which organized an event Monday led by hundreds of clergy. “Scripture says you help your neighbor. That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Muslim tradition … is about,” she said.

Democrats have seized on the religious community’s concern, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York declaring last week that the House bill “would literally criminalize the good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself,” according to the Associated Press.

“I am not really surprised that Hillary Clinton doesn’t know the first thing about the Bible,” Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, retorted Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Her impression, her analysis, her interpretation of both the law and the Bible are certainly wrong, to say the least.”

The bill approved by the House in December would, among other things, modify a law that punishes anyone who helps foreigners sneak into the country or harbors illegal aliens from authorities.

Supporters of the House bill — including its author, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican — say the provision is aimed at people who make a living trafficking foreigners into the country.

“I would hope everyone would embrace a good-faith effort to combat alien-smuggling gangs rather than engage in fear mongering that clergy and good Samaritans will be thrown in jail. That’s absolutely false,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said Monday.

However, Bernadette Passade Cisse, vice president for policy and advocacy at the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said the House provision would be “a huge stumbling block to very essential services.”

Kevin Appleby, director of migration and refugee policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the House bill “overreached” in several areas, including the provision on aid to illegal aliens.

“That was particularly offensive because it conflicts against the basic mission of the church,” Mr. Appleby said.

He said the House bill “could criminalize minor acts of mercy,” such as meals and first aid, and subject religious workers to prison.

“That’s not the case at all,” said Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for Mr. Sensenbrenner.

The government has no interest in spending time or money to prosecute priests, rabbis and other workers who offer food, shelter and assistance to illegal aliens, he said.

But the groups say verbal assurances aren’t enough.

“We appreciate the spoken intent of the proponents. However, once a law is passed, it’s on the books, and prosecutors and judges can interpret it however they’d like,” Mr. Appleby said.

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