Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee of the North Carolina General Assembly discussed SB 145, an anti-immigrant bill that would expand the 287g program, thereby allowing local law enforcement to act as ICE officials and forcing NC university system institutions to disclose a student’s immigration status if required by a state or federal agency. It would also revoke the exception that allows law enforcement officers to accept a community ID such as the FaithAction ID and withhold state funding from cities or counties that adopt a so-called “sanctuary” policy or ordinance regarding undocumented immigrants in any respect. Moreover, it would create an anonymous complaint process for any citizen to be able with “good faith” to report a local government for not following immigration laws, and any city with a sanctuary policy could be sued by anyone who may be injured by the actions of an undocumented immigrant.
There are many reasons that this bill is bad, not only for immigrants, but also for all citizens of North Carolina. First, community ID programs have actually been supported by local law enforcement and have been shown to make communities safer because they promote positive relations between the immigrant community and the law enforcement officials. They have been so successful that they have served as a template for other cities in the United States to follow. Second, the 287g program has been proven to lead to widespread racial profiling. Finally, there are many questions around anonymous complaints and holding local governments legally liable for damages if they adopt sanctuary ordinances and an “unauthorized alien commits a crime against a person or property” within that city or county.
However, as bad as this bill is (and I believe it is awful in representing the unwelcoming and punitive spirit that has come to dominate our lawmaking bodies), the reasoning behind the arguments at last Tuesday’s hearing, especially in discussions of the role of the church in helping immigrants, was particularly disheartening. WRAL reports:
Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, said his church provides food and other humanitarian assistance to the community. “The folks that need help and that are coming for help, we know they’re illegal,” Lowe stated. “ We know they’re here because they have nowhere else to go and they’re just trying to get some basic help. You don’t advertise it, but you just know.”
Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D- Buncombe, asked whether someone could call the police and tell them to put up a checkpoint outside Lowe’s church and then call to file a complaint if the police didn’t do that. “I think this would lead to thousands of frivolous investigations and a significant drain on the state’s resources, as well as towns losing funding that they desperately need,” warned Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, echoed (Sen. Harry) Brown’s frustration, accusing Democrats on the committee of “nitpicking” the measure. “What we’re trying to do is say we’re not going to welcome you if you’re illegal,” Tillman said. “If you don’t like it, vote no.”
An angry Lowe actually walked away from the committee table but returned moments later to respond to Tillman. “I resent anybody saying I’m nitpicking,” Lowe said. “I am concerned because this is a real issue. Someone could call the police department and say the Shiloh Baptist Church is harboring illegals, and that’s a real issue for a lot of churches.”
These are our lawmakers arguing about a church providing food to people who need it. Matthew 25 clearly states, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, “Whatever you do to the least of these my brethren, you do unto me.” We are called to be Christ-like in our love of the neighbors with which God blesses us — we are called to welcome the stranger and extend a hand to those in need, regardless of their immigration status. Would you turn Jesus away from a food pantry at your church if he couldn’t produce a valid North Carolina driver’s license? Would you set up a checkpoint in front of your church to detain him and deport him back to his home country? These are the policies for which our “representatives” are advocating.
Rep. Lowe is right: This is a real issue for a lot of churches, and the laws that our legislature adopts have serious consequences for immigrants and citizens. SB 145 has passed the Judiciary Committee and will be heard next in the Finance Committee and, if action taken is favorable, it will be discussed in the Senate Rules committee.
Please, contact your representatives and tell them that you disagree with SB 145 because you believe that churches should be able to provide aid and hospitality to anyone who needs it, regardless of their documentation status, and that we should be adopting policies that promote offering welcome and service rather than punishing those who offer it.