What the Texas bishops want you to know about SB 4, the “sanctuary cities” law

by Juan Guajardo

North Texas Catholic

June 30, 2017

Rufino Galindo of Brownsville holds up a sign during the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops Advocacy Day at the Texas State Capitol in Austin April 4, 2017. (NTC photo/Thao Nguyen)




FORT WORTH — Responding to a sense of fear and confusion in immigrant communities throughout the state, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops published a resource guide Tuesday explaining the ramifications of SB 4, known colloquially as the “sanctuary cities” law. 

Bishop Michael Olson has asked that the guide be included as a bulletin insert at all 90 parishes within the Diocese of Fort Worth on the weekends of July 1-2, or as soon as possible.

The guide explains the Texas bishops’ stance against SB 4, details what SB 4 does and doesn’t do, and also provides a “know your rights card” allowing a person to declare and exercise his or her 4th and 5th Amendment rights in the presence of an immigration official.

Helen Osman, communications consultant for the TCCB, explained that the guide was developed in response to “a lot of concern about SB 4” the bishops were hearing from their pastors, parishes, and laity.

The guide, which was issued to every diocese in Texas, is meant to “help people understand what the law is because there’s hysteria out there and misinformation,” Osman told the NTC.

SB 4, which was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on May 7, punishes local law enforcement or city officials who don’t honor federal immigration requests, or “detainers,” to hold noncitizen inmates subject to deportation. Punishment for not honoring a detainer ranges from denial of state funding, to civil and criminal penalties, fines up to $25,000 per violation, removal from public office, and jail time.

The bill also allows officers to inquire about someone’s immigration status during routine stops. The law extends to campus police departments but not to hospital districts, public or charter schools, or churches.

The TCCB guide also details several ways to maintain a welcoming and safe community. A resource section gives a link to a list of local immigration professionals, contact information for the Catholic Legal and Immigration Network (CLINIC), and legal services at Catholic Charities.

“[The bishops] definitely wanted to stay focused on a pastoral approach,” Osman said. “Whatever your immigration status is, the bill is impacting your community.”


Uncertain Times and What To Do

Margarita Morton, a St. Patrick Cathedral parishioner and immigration lawyer in Fort Worth, said although the bill goes into effect Sept. 4, it has already led to much uncertainty and fear in the immigrant community.

“Many of my existing clients and potential new clients have reached out to me for guidance as they seek to more fully protect themselves and their families,” she said. “I have heard from clients that their neighbors are considering moving due to fear and uncertainty of what will happen to their loved ones should they remain.

A 13-year-old girl wears U.S. flags during a rally for immigration rights earlier this year in Dallas. There is a sense of fear among youth and their parents, some of who are in the country illegally, over recent immigration proposals. (NTC photo/Ben Torres)

“I tell them they are still protected under the laws of our nation regardless of their status here in the United States,” Morton told the NTC. “I remind them that their constitutional protections are still valid as they are strong, but nonetheless we must stay prepared for every possible situation.”

Immediately after the law passed in May, cities and counties throughout the state filed a lawsuit against the State of Texas stating that the bill violated both the U.S. and Texas constitutions. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia heard a motion for a preliminary injunction to block SB 4 from implementation while the case winds through the legal system. The daylong hearing ended without a ruling from Garcia and no timetable was set for a decision.

Like with previous “papers please” bills in other states, such as Arizona’s SB 1070, Morton said there is a possibility of key provisions being blocked by the court.

“The above-mentioned lawsuit is presently alleging SB 4 violates both established principles of the 10th Amendment, as well as the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution,” she said.

“We do not have the luxury of assuming that because something [was overruled] in the past, it will occur again in the future,” Morton added.

In the midst of the uncertainty, the Texas bishops encourage Catholics to pray for police, “who sacrifice to keep us safe; for migrants, who seek a better life for their families; for our leaders, who seek the common good; and for ourselves, that we all may be worthy of the promises of Christ.”

They also asked people to know the facts about immigration and encourage family, friends, or neighbors who are migrants to consider applying for legal status.


Why the Bishops Oppose SB 4

In a May 8 statement, Bishop Michael Olson expressed concern and disappointment over the newly-passed bill, saying the legislation could “harm the common good because it fosters an attitude of suspicion of the legal status of all immigrants.”

Rather, he said, “enforcement measures should have the goal of targeting dangerous criminals for incarceration and deportation.”

Bishop Olson added the bill does not resolve “the complicated problems of our immigration system, problems that harm families and children.” Those problems, according to the TCCB, include addressing the causes of flight from a home country (poverty, violence, corruption) and attending to admittance requirements.

In opposition testimony delivered to the Texas Senate Feb. 2 — prior to lawmakers giving preliminary approval to SB 4 — Austin Bishop Joe Vásquez clarified that the Church “does not condone or encourage illegal immigration because it is not good for society or for the migrant, who lives in fear and in the shadows.”

Bishop Michael Olson (center), Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller (left) and the other bishops of Texas have opposed SB 4 since it was introduced. After it was passed by the Senate, they urged Governor Abbott to veto the bill. (NTC photo/Thao Nguyen)

But, he stated, laws must “respect the rights and dignity given by our Creator to each person.”

In his testimony against SB 4, Bishop Vásquez said the Texas Catholic Bishops support enforcement that is targeted, proportional, and humane.

Bishop Vásquez explained that by being “targeted,” a law is focused on those “who are dangerous.” Enforcement should make sure the basic rights of every immigrant are not curtailed, and that racial profiling be avoided. A law should also avoid casting doubt or suspicion on broad swaths of innocent people.

By proportional, he said, the bishops mean that enforcement should not feature unnecessary force or overly severe penalties. He gave the example that border enforcement compelling migrants to risk their lives in the remote Chihuahuan Desert is not proportional. Under SB 4, detainers could be placed on people regardless of the “reason of arrest or gravity of the crime,” Morton added.

By humane, the bishops mean that in the enforcement of any law, the dignity and rights of a human person should be “preserved and respected,” Bishop Vásquez explained. “Families should not be divided and should receive special consideration. Undocumented immigrants should not be detained for lengthy periods or intermingled with violent offenders. Asylum seekers should receive appropriate screening by qualified adjudicators. Children should be accommodated within a child welfare context.”

SB 4 “doesn’t seem to meet any of the three criteria,” Helen Osman said.

More recently, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller and Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores wrote a joint column in McAllen’s The Monitor, where they expressed that the “field enforcement” provision in SB 4 (that local and state police can ask about immigration status “at any point”) was “most vehemently opposed by the bishops as injurious to community trust in law enforcement.”

A family meets with an attorney during a workshop at the Mexican Consulate in Dallas in April 2017. The workshop allowed for parents to state who would be the legal guardians of their children in case of deportation. (NTC photo/Ben Torres)

“People are now afraid that pretexts will be invented so that they can be stopped and asked about their immigration status,” they said. The law prohibits profiling and discrimination, but “the immigrant poor are not likely to have the resources or the counsel needed to defend themselves.”

That part of the law is what leads to the strongest fear of deportation and separation among migrant families in the community, Morton said, and to what critics call a “chilling effect” among migrants, who may become reluctant to report a crime for fear of being detained.

Simple traffic stops or noise violations can result in law-abiding individuals being asked about immigration status, and eventually being arrested and detained if they cannot show proof of lawful status. If ICE then issues an expedited order of removal, Morton said, the likelihood of deportation increases because the detained person has a much harder time seeking and retaining legal counsel under the time crunch.

In their column, Archbishop García-Siller and Bishop Flores said under SB 4 routine stops like those will cause people to be “desperately afraid,” to “immediately wonder about their children, and about their own safety if deported.”

“It is this uncertainty and potential panic at the moment of questioning that breeds fear and hurts the community fabric.”

FORT WORTH — Responding to a sense of fear and confusion in immigrant communities throughout the state, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops published a resource guide Tuesday explaining the ramifications of SB 4, known colloquially as the “sanctuary cities” law. 

Published (until 12/25/2039)