Religious groups file court briefs opposing ‘sanctuary cities’ law
Senate Bill 4 part of ‘anti-immigrant agenda,’ bishop says.
For the first time, religious groups have filed court briefs against the so-called sanctuary cities ban in Senate Bill 4, entering the fray in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the implementation of the law, which they say will harm their faith communities.
The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, numerous individual religious leaders and a state interfaith organization on Sunday asked the federal court in San Antonio to consider their opposition to SB 4 when deciding on a request for an injunction that would prevent the law from being enforced beginning Sept. 1.
“SB 4 is contrary to the moral imperative that we love our neighbor, welcome the immigrant and care for the most vulnerable among us,” Bishop C. Andrew Doyle of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas said in a news release. “This law represents an anti-immigrant agenda that is born out of fear and promoted out of a sense of privilege, jeopardizing justice for everyone.”
The law, which critics often call the “show me your papers bill,” would empower local police officers to inquire about anyone’s immigration status during routine police encounters, such as traffic stops.
It also prohibits local governments from ignoring detention requests by federal immigration authorities for jail inmates suspected of living in the country illegally. Travis County has a policy that ignores many of these so-called detainers requested by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Dueling lawsuits related to SB 4 have been filed in federal
courts in San Antonio and Austin. Though the suit from Attorney General Ken Paxton filed in Austin preceded the suit from several Texas cities, the one in San Antonio is expected to take primacy, according to a source involved in the suit but not authorized to speak publicly.
The religious leaders’ brief was filed in the San Antonio case.
Leading up to SB 4’s passage, more than 200 religious leaders, including Doyle, participated in protests and legislative hearings that culminated in the passage of SB 4. However, the court filings Sunday marked the first time religious groups had joined the court battle.
Six bishops from the Episcopal Diocese along with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and Texas Impact filed a friend of the court brief against SB 4. In total, they represent at least 142,000 parishioners and 461 congregations in Texas, according to the filing.
Locally, Austin City Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria has said he has seen attendance at his church drop sharply since ICE conducted enforcement raids this year in Texas and lawmakers passed SB 4.
The filing states that it would hamper religious groups’ efforts to help new immigrants seek assistance, citing a United Nations study that found 64 percent of female immigrants who enter the country illegally are fleeing violence, the suit said.
It also states that the law would allow “rogue” officers to commit wanton racial and ethnic profiling.
Supporters of the law say it is a public safety issue that would keep criminals off the streets and prevent them from evading immigration hearings that would lead to deportations.
Last month, ICE and the Travis County sheriff ’s office had a spat over a man the sheriff’s office released against the wishes of the federal agency.
Sheriff Sally Hernandez publicly groused over an ICE statement touting the arrest of a Mexican gang member who had been deported four times, only to acknowledge a day later that the office probably would have honored the detainer had it known the man’s extensive criminal history.