Baltimore, Md., Jun 1, 2017 / 10:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Maryland Catholic Conference has issued a statement of guiding principles for Catholics and state legislators to better encounter immigrants with compassion in both personal and political arenas. Members of the Maryland community, they said, should encounter migrants with “a spirit of compassion, prudence, and cooperation to address the challenges faced by immigrants, elected officials, law enforcement and our communities as a whole.”

The May 30 document, signed by bishops in Maryland, Washington, and Delaware, refers to immigration enforcement on local and federal levels. The bishops encouraged politicians and legislators to foster a spirit of equality throughout the state and trust among migrant communities, while at the same time ensuring that civil authorities stand against criminal activity. “Build trust with our immigrant communities by establishing a clear division of duties between local law enforcement and federal immigration agents so that immigrants feel safe reporting crimes and cooperating in police investigations,” they advised.

In addition, consequences for violating the law should be clearly defined, said the bishops, to ensure that the laws are equally applied to everyone. Pointing to Fourth Amendment protections, they decried searches of individuals or homes without probable cause, and arrests superseding the normal procedures.

Additionally, the bishops asked for priority to be given to working families who are taking care of children and protection to be given to community programs, so as not to hinder migrants from congregating at churches, schools, and other community gatherings.

Beyond the realms of legislation and politics, the bishops encouraged the people of Maryland to participate in dialogue while respecting different opinions. This, they said, will allow people to “learn firsthand about their hopes and dreams, fears and sorrows,” as well as the root causes of immigration. Relationships should be built between citizens and immigrants, but the bishops also stressed the need for reconciliation between opposing opinions, an already “passionate debate” raising controversy at state and national levels.  

A personal relationship between opposite sides in the debate will not only create a greater understanding, but will also enable honest interaction in the political arena, the bishops said. They encouraged Catholics to communicate opinions to elected officials instead of shying away from confrontation or dominating debates with emotionally charged opinions.

At the end of the guideline document, the bishops thanked immigrants for their inspirational examples and strong family values. “We pledge through our parishes and institutions to minister to you as you learn a new language; as you seek employment, shelter, food, clothing and healthcare; and as you celebrate your faith in a loving God,” they said.

The guidelines were released amidst a strict interpretation of immigration policies by the Trump administration, affecting both federal and local ordinances. A bill that is currently under consideration would allow correctional officers in Baltimore County to screen arrested individuals for their citizen status. Afterwards, the individual would be referred into immigration proceedings by an official of immigration enforcement. Frederick and Harford counties are already participating in the federal program, with others counties expected to join soon.

The County Council is expected to vote on the bill on June 5, however it already faces opposition, and the County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has promised to veto the bill if it is passed. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, migrant-based arrests have increased by nearly 38 percent since this time last year and over 41,000 immigrants have been detained so far. Outlined in the 2018 budget blueprint, President Donald Trump has requested an increase in federal funding for border security and immigration enforcement by $2.7 billion.