AUSTIN—The Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission joined a coalition of faith-based groups urging the Texas Legislature to reject one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s priorities—legislation outlawing “sanctuary cities.”
“Elected officials do not get to pick and choose which laws to enforce,” Abbott told a joint session of the Texas Legislature during his State of the State address. “This will be the session where we ban sanctuary cities.”
Abbott announced his support for SB 4, introduced by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. The bill would cut off state money to local governments that instruct police officers not to ask detained individuals about immigration status.
‘A chilling effect’
However, leaders of religious organizations, including the CLC, Austin Interfaith and the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, called on lawmakers to reject the measure.
“SB 4 will force many immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, into the shadows out of fear of being unfairly targeted simply because of the color of their skin,” CLC Director Gus Reyes said.
“We are worried our people will be afraid to attend worship services on Sunday morning. This will have a chilling effect on the relationship between immigrant communities and law enforcement, but it will also negatively impact many of our congregations.”
‘Undermines public safety’
SB 4 would force local law enforcement to take time away from their primary duty—protecting the lives and property of citizens in their communities, a Methodist pastor from Austin said.
“This bill requires local police and sheriff’s deputies to enforce federal immigration laws, as if their job of maintaining public order and the public safety weren’t difficult enough as it is,” said John Elford, senior pastor of University United Methodist Church in Austin and a member of Austin Interfaith.
“It creates a chilling effect that undermines public safety, families and the well-being of the community. I find it hard to imagine how this is not evident to the leaders of our state.”
Other religious leaders insisted the legislation would result in the profiling of minorities and unfairly target immigrants.
“I am disappointed that so many of our state leaders are pushing legislation that, in our view, treats immigrants in a way that fails to reflect the respect due to every human being made in the image and likeness of God,” said Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.
Governor puts bill on fast track
Abbott declared the sanctuary cities legislation an emergency item, which enables lawmakers to override rules that typically prevent them from voting on bills during the legislative session’s first 60 days.
After about 16 hours of testimony Feb. 2, the State Affairs Committee approved the bill 7-2 in a party-line vote, sending it to the full Senate. The Senate voted 20-11, along party lines, to give its preliminary approval to the measure Feb. 7.
A previous effort to ban sanctuary cities, supported by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, failed in both the regular legislative session and a special session.
EDITOR’S NOTE: After this article originally was posted, the next-to-last paragraph was edited Feb. 8 to report on Senate action.
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