Lutheran and Catholic bishops voiced opposition last week to an Alabama-styled immigration bill in the Mississippi state legislature that the Mississippi governor has endorsed.
“I am writing to you out of deep concern about House Bill 488, legislation modeled after the Alabama immigration law that is moving through the Mississippi state legislature. I am particularly troubled that you have endorsed the bill,” said Julian Gordy, bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in a March 1 letter to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant.

“Deputizing state and local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law diverts them away from catching criminals who truly pose a risk to Mississippians,” wrote Gordy. “Moreover, compelling local law enforcement to take on these responsibilities undermines the trust police officers have built with communities over the years. If migrants – both legal and unauthorized – fear reporting crimes to law enforcement, all Mississippians are less safe.”

Calling the bill “mean-spirited,” Gordy, whose synod includes Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, said he was “extremely troubled by the provision which would require Mississippi public schools to determine the immigration status of students and their parents.”

The Lutheran bishop pointed out the economic risk that Mississippi may incur with the passage of HB 488.

“A recent study conducted by the University of Alabama estimates the law has cost the state up to $10.8 billion in GDP annually. It also calculated that 70,000 to 140,000 jobs have been lost,” said Gordy, an outspoken advocate for protecting the undocumented.

He spoke at a Nashville screening in late January of GospelWithoutBorders and signed a letter from Tennessee faith leaders asking Republican presidential candidates to avoid bringing anti-immigration rhetoric into Tennessee during the presidential primary.

Joseph Latino, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, Miss., said the bill could be “devastating” to undocumented immigrant families, resulting in the deportation or imprisonment of a family’s primary breadwinner.

He also questioned whether the bill would create jobs as promised by its sponsors.

“I would challenge those who say that to look at the jobs that the immigrants are doing, and see if there’s people standing in line to take those jobs,” said Latino.

Latino; Roger Morin, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi; Duncan Gray, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi; and Hope Morgan Ward, bishop of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church, expressed their concerns about the “growing climate of anti-immigration attitude” in a January letter to Bryant and the Mississippi legislators.

“Coarse anti-immigration legislation eats away at the very core of our nation’s ideals and unjust punitive measures diminish the character of all of us and we are not a people in pursuit of justice,” they wrote.

The bishops asked the governor and lawmakers to refrain from anti-immigration legislation.

They reminded letter recipients of the state’s “troublesome past, with biases and discrimination between cultural and ethnic groups.”

While Bryant denied that the bill would contribute to racial profiling, he did refer to Mexican “crime and violence,” saying that Mexico “seems to be in chaos.”

“Simply get in line with the others who want to be Americans,” said Bryant. “[Y]ou will be welcomed with open arms.”

Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, wrote in a Feb. 21 editorial, “Politicians and the uninformed will surely continue to refer to “the line.”

“But ‘getting in the back of the line,'” Parham continued, “ought to be a concept that goodwill people of faith strike from their moral vocabulary.”

“And when we hear others talk about how the undocumented ought to get in line, perhaps we ought to ask where ‘the line’ literally is and how long a parent with hungry children ought to stand in the make-believe line before they can enter a country legally to do work that Americans don’t want to do,” Parham wrote.

The Mississippi Baptist Convention Board did not answer’s request about its stance on HB488.

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