Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican at the April 18 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the proposed immigration bill, started the controversy with his very opening remarks: “Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system.” And he didn’t stop there. “How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” he remarked, his tone rising with outrage. “How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?”Senator Grassley and other conservative Republican lawmakers who tried to delay or derail the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 drew a quick response from U.S. bishops. “Opponents of immigration … will seize on anything, and when you’ve got something as vivid and as recent as the tragedy in Boston, it puts another arrow in their quiver,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters.“To label a whole group of people — namely, the vast population of hard-working, reliable, virtuous immigrants — to label them, to demean them because of the vicious, tragic actions of two people is just ridiculous,” he declared. “Illogical. Unfair. Unjust.”Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, a member of that committee, joined Cardinal Dolan in the April 22 conference call. They pointed out how arguments against immigration based on the Boston Marathon bombings were similar to the 19th-century anti-Catholic nativism that justified barring all Irish immigrants because of violence used by a few radical groups like the Molly Maguires.Cardinal Dolan, a student of church history, explained, “They are going through now what we did in the 1840s and 1850s. Whenever a group is painted with a wide brush, we begin to bristle.”In his April 18 Tidings’ column, Archbishop Gomez said the immigration reform legislation is long overdue, labeling it the civil rights test of the present generation. He noted that many Americans still don’t understand the Catholic Church’s commitment to this cause.For nearly 20 years, the United States chose not to enforce its immigration laws because the nation needed immigrants, illegal or not, to work in hotels and restaurants, in the fields on farms and for construction companies. Many of these back-breaking jobs paid minimum wages or less. “That’s a difficult truth,” he noted. “These men and women came here to work — and all of us have been depending on and benefitting from their work.” The archbishop said he and his fellow U.S. bishops believe “real reform” means providing a generous path to citizenship plus a system supporting families and children. “We want reforms so that immigrant families can remain together,” he stressed. “We want reforms so that migrant farmworkers and others are not exploited. And we want reforms so our brothers and sisters can live with the dignity that God intends for them.” —R.W Dellinger