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Blog: Answering a Call to Moral Duty

Dec 17, 2012 | By Katie Brennan, Guest Blogger

The Reality of Immigration Policies Leads to Conversion of a Sheriff

Sheriff Mark Curran answers his office phone and hears the voice of a Hispanic woman. Curran recognizes her as a young woman he’s met before, who is active in the local church community. He remembers her as a voice of confidence, bringing assurance to the large Lake County immigrant community. But the voice Curran hears on the phone is not a voice of hope, but instead, a voice of desperation. The voice begs Curran to “look at the numbers.”

This was not the first time the sheriff of Lake County, Illinois, had been approached by immigrant communities. Curran is very visible and well-known in the county just south of the Wisconsin border. 

But this particular phone call was one he still keeps with him. “You’ll see the tears in their eyes, you’ll hear the crackling in their voices, and it’s hard to be human, and not to react to that,” says Curran.

The “numbers” to which the young woman referred were the statistics Curran used when he spoke at a 2008 conference, supporting the implementation of section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The controversial provision authorizes local law enforcement agencies like the Lake Country Sheriff’s Office to identify, process and detain undocumented immigrants for potential deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Curran mentioned the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that “seeks to improve border security, to stop illegal immigration, and to promote immigration levels consistent with the national interests,” and quoted FAIR’s statistics to prove the high costs immigrants were placing on the state of Illinois. The woman told Curran FAIR was a hate organization.

Before becoming sheriff, Curran had served as a prosecutor. He was heralded as a great crusader for immigration enforcement, bringing America “back to its foundations,” and people compared Curran to Joe Arpaio, the best- known sheriff in the nation, who recently won re-election to a sixth term as Maricopa County Sheriff, in Arizona.

In 2008, Curran was asked by the Catholic archdiocese to speak about law enforcement and gang violence at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein. During a Q & A session, Cardinal Francis George, The Archbishop of Chicago, asked Curran about his views on immigration. Unhappy with the answers he received, Cardinal George asked Curran to take a look at what the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had written on immigration.

In 2003, the USCCB published Strangers No Longer Together on the Journey of Hope, a pastoral letter dealing with migration. “When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right,” the Bishops wrote.

Curran, a devout Catholic, goes to Mass nearly every day and to confession once a week. He researched immigration from a political, economic, and ethical perspective, realizing just how wrong he was. Curran compares his story to Paul, his confirmation name. Like Paul’s conversion from Saul to Paul on the road to Damascus, Curran says he underwent a similar conversion.

Since his conversion, Curran has been asked to speak at numerous churches, organizations, and pro- immigration rallies appeared on PBS Frontline’s “Lost in Detention,” a documentary examining immigration policy enforcement. He received an Advocate of the Year Award from the Chicago Archdiocese in October 2011. Curran feels that that it is his moral obligation to speak out against the injustices in the immigration system.

Sister Dawn Nothwehr, a professor of Catholic social teaching at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, agrees there is a moral obligation to help America’s immigrants. She cites Leviticus 19:33-34 as the main theology behind Catholic teaching on immigration. “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.”

However, Curran thinks the path to immigration a difficult one because of human nature. He says people are too proud to seek the truth, “Ultimately, the economic and the law enforcement arguments are all there. And so are the moral arguments,” he says. “The problem is all sin is rooted in pride.”