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Hispanic Evangelicals Say Texas Bill Wrongfully Targets Undocumented Christians

KUT News
Hispanic evangelical pastors in Texas say they oppose a bill by Sen. Charles Perry, shown here, that prohibits local governments from passing sanctuary city measures.

Hispanic evangelicals in Texas have common ground with some conservative Texas lawmakers on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion. When it comes to a measure known as the sanctuary cities bill, however, evangelicals say their faith stops them from supporting the measure.

Last month, hundreds of evangelical Christian pastors came to the State Capitol to show this opposition to the sanctuary cities bill, Senate Bill 185, from State Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). It would punish local police departments that forbid officers from asking people they detain about their immigration status.

Pastor Lynn Godsey, an evangelical pastor from Ennis, just south of Dallas, came back to the Capitol Monday to visit with lawmakers in the hopes they’ll vote against the bill.

"There’s a big difference between a criminal and a Christian," says Godsey, adding that if few police officers do racial profiling now, this bill would allow them to do it regularly. "Then that will become what we as pastors call persecuting the church of Jesus Christ, and any legislators that are involved in that – God have mercy on their souls, because then they pick on somebody bigger than them and me and that’s God Almighty."

Tears come to Godsey's eyes when he talks about four groups that the Bible says God will always defend – the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Many evangelicals consider undocumented immigrants as strangers they need to protect.  

After Monday’s hearing on the sanctuary cities bill, I asked Sen. Perry what he would say to faith leaders like Godsey, who worry police officers will wait outside of churches to stop someone making a wrong turn, for example. Does he worry that his bill would cause a rift between him and this religious community? 

"I hope not, because we all serve the same God in this case," he said. "I have all the faith in the world, but that’s just an extreme example and I know it’s built out of passion and concern, and I would never purport to know how they feel by not walking in those shoes. I don’t try to make judgments in that regard, but at the same time, I just trust our law officials more than to abuse something, and if they do that they should be punished to the extent the law allows."

His bill now has an exemption for officers who work at public schools, though not for officers who work for hospital districts. Despite the changes, Democrats and some in law enforcement continue to oppose the bill.

As does Bee Moorhead, the executive director of Texas Impact, a network of interfaith members. Moorhead says some conservative lawmakers may be surprised that evangelicals are against this measure since they often agree on other conservative issues.

"This bill is really close to the hearts of people who are involved with immigrant communities," she says, adding that lawmakers should to take a step back and give the bill more thought. "This isn’t some theoretical possibility for them, they see it as a direct threat to the health and safety of people they know and love. There are a lot more perspectives here and we might need to have a lot more sophisticated conversation on this issue with the faith community to really understand what these concerns are."

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Military Installations might take a vote on Sen. Perry’s bill. If the committee passes it, and the full Senate does, too, it’ll head to the House.

Pastor Lynn Godsey says if the bill does make it over to the lower chamber, hundreds of pastors from across the state will return to the Capitol for another rally. 

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