The latest player in Texas' sanctuary cities debate? God.
Citing passages from the Bible they say teach that immigrants should be shown compassion, a group of religious leaders congregated at First United Methodist Church in Austin on Wednesday to denounce HB 12 by Carrollton Republican Burt Solomons. The bill would prohibit government entities from adopting policies that prevent law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status.
“Jesus said [in the Book of Matthew], ‘I was a stranger, and you invited me in,’” Bishop James E. Dorff of United Methodist Church in San Antonio said. “Our prayer this morning is that we find a common ground on this issue.”
HB 12 is one of about 60 immigration-related bills filed this session. Abolishing sanctuary cities, the common term for entities that prevent law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status, has been declared an “emergency item” by Gov. Rick Perry.
Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Catholic Diocese of Austin said the issue is a “moral one, not just a political one.” The group’s opposition “stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image,” he said.
State Rep. Jose Aliseda, R-Beeville, said the religious leaders are confused. A practicing Catholic, Aliseda says he knows for a fact that the church does not condone illegal immigration.
“If you read the catechism of the Catholic Church, when it discusses immigration, it says that people should not cross a nation’s borders without respecting that nation’s laws,” he told reporters in Spanish.
Unlike Perry’s other emergency items, however, HB 12 has been slower in getting to the floor for a debate. HB 12 has been stuck in the Calendars Committee since last month, and Solomons said today even he didn’t know when it would be debated.
“I am not even thinking about sanctuary cities right now,” he said. Instead Solomons, the chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, is focused on the first batch of new legislative maps set to hit the House floor this week. Solomons did say he was growing weary of all the discussion surrounding HB 12, which he says mandates very little. The bill only requires that entities do not adopt policies restricting law enforcement from asking about status, he said, but it doesn’t require that they do.
Solomons has already amended the bill from its original form to address some House Democrats’ concerns. He struck language that would require that school district employees inquire about the status of students unless they are commissioned peace officers investigating a crime. But he conceded that a floor debate could allow members to attach to his bill other immigration legislation that hasn’t passed out of committee via amendments.
It is that possibility that has some Democrats looking ahead with concern.
“I am going to be very vigilant to these types of amendments which may be germane to this type of legislation because I believe it can get out of hand and we’ll end up writing a very bad bill," said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.
Meanwhile, Dorff said he just wants lawmakers to know how the religious community feels about the bill.
“We want to make sure that as the legislators are considering this bill, that they understand where we stand on this issue … so that there can be no doubt about our common understanding and our common perception and our common wisdom,” he said.
That common wisdom, said Rabbi Neil Blumofe of the Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, is that nothing good comes from discriminating against a group of people for any reason.
“I am concerned that we are routinely looking for ways to break us down and divide us rather than [ways to] unite us,” he said.