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Apr 14, 2011 | Joshunda Sanders

Religious Leaders Denounce Immigration Bill

About a dozen bishops, rabbis and religious leaders gathered in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church on Wednesday morning to call attention to what they called their moral obligation to defend the rights of immigrants in Central Texas against bills like House Bill 12, which would prohibit cities from barring police from asking about the immigration status of a person who is lawfully arrested or detained.


As religious leaders in Central Texas, some with significant numbers of immigrants in their churches and parishes, Bishop James Dorff with the Southwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church said those gathered felt called to follow their faith traditions and explore the “moral dimensions of public policy.”


Austin Interfaith, a grassroots organizing coalition, said that there have been “more than 60 anti-immigrant bills filed at the legislature” including House Bill 12, which leaders focused on. (The Texas Catholic Conference has a list of them here.)


Such bills, if made law, would “make it more difficult for immigrant families to live,” Rev. David Boyd, who leads St. David’s Episcopal Church said.


Bishop Joe Vasquez, who was a key organizer of the press conference and has been a vocal opponent of anti-immigration policies, said at the conference that the “issue of immigration is not just political, but moral. Scripture recognizes all people as immigrants. Jesus himself was a refugee as an infant.”


Vasquez went on to say that House Bill 12 in particular “threatens public safety and is an expensive way to make our city less safe,” because it would discourage immigrants from trusting police to protect them, “which means they may not provide important information with law enforcement.”


The bill has passed out of the state affairs committee to the Calendars committee, which will soon decide when it’ll go to the floor for a debate before the House votes on it.


Rev. Al Rodriguez, the rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in North Austin, said that his appearance with several other leaders at the press conference was his first foray into immigration policy as a “human issue.” As a resource for more than 150 mostly Latino families at his church, he said he has seen the toll that current immigration policy has had on families. “If they should be accused of anything, it should be their willingness to work and live in the shadows,” he said. “Can you imagine living with the undercurrent of fear that your wife or husband will be picked up and may not come home? There’s a human toll and that’s my particular concern. As people of faith, we’re supposed to help people flourish, so we have to stand against laws that challenge that.”