Faith leaders from across the state have signed a letter calling on the legislature to stop progress on two bills seen as attacks against immigrants.

The letter and the press conference were organized by the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, and supported by numerous faith organizations across the state.

At a press conference Thursday, Rev. Ryan Eller of Define American announced that 340 clergy and other faith leaders had signed the letter, and that number was still growing. He noted that the campaign against the bills had happened without a big media push or advertising; instead, faith leaders were hearing about the letter, signing it, and then passing it on to others to sign.

He also shared that Church World Service told him that in their work fighting such bills across the country, no other state had as many faith leaders come together in opposition to the bills as Kentucky.

The letter notes that “as people of faith, we look first to our common values rooted in our sacred texts that remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us.” This point was made repeatedly by speakers at the press conference, stating that welcoming immigrants was specifically called for by their individual faith traditions.

Another key point raised in the letter and at the press conference was the effect of the bills on public safety, as immigrants (both documented and undocumented) are becoming more and more reluctant to report crime or suspicious behavior out of fear that they themselves will be targeted.

Edgardo Mansilla, executive director of the American Center in Louisville, said that multiple immigrants have told him of crimes committed against them that they decided not to report, due to these bills. He said the fear in the immigrant community was growing due to this legislation.

Speakers also pointed out that in addition to making our commonwealth less safe, the fear generated by the bills was causing immigrant families to leave the state. This loss of immigrant families would harm our state financially, both through the loss of the hundreds of millions of tax dollars paid by these families, and the loss of workers in numerous sectors of the economy.

Said Mansilla, “Who’s going to work in your restaurants? Who’s going to work on your farms? Who’s going to fix your roof?”

After the press conference, copies of the letter were shared with each member of the legislature, along with a list of all the signatories to the letter, and a map showing where each of the signatories was located.

Here is the letter that was signed and sent to the legislators:

Dear Members of the Kentucky General Assembly:

As faith leaders from many different traditions, we write out of grave concern regarding the anti-immigrant legislation that is being considered by the Kentucky General Assembly. As people of faith, we look first to our common values rooted in our sacred texts that remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us.

We must recall that we are a state with a proud legacy of immigrants, and we recognize the valuable contributions immigrants and refugees bring to our communities and economy.

As the House considers SB 1, which passed the Senate on February 4, 2020, and HB 51, we urge you to remember that Kentucky policies should reflect those values and treat immigrants with the respect and dignity we all deserve. The proposed legislation and its harsh rhetoric sends a divisive message and casts immigrants as threats rather than contributors to our communities. These bills would prohibit communities from passing sanctuary policies and pressure almost all public employees – from state social workers, to staff at homeless shelters, to some university personnel – to engage in federal immigration enforcement. They would also allow state constitutional officers to formally challenge people or agencies they believe are not enforcing the law – and punish local police for adopting policies that limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement officers. These bills would take away local police departments’ right to set their own public safety priorities – thereby conscripting local law enforcement to prioritize immigration enforcement over local public safety needs.

SB 1 and HB 51 would erode trust between the immigrant community and local police and put our public safety at risk. These provisions would not make communities or cities in Kentucky any safer. Rather, they would reverse community-based policing efforts that are vital to public safety in our neighborhoods. This legislation would weaken local law enforcement by putting victims and witnesses of crime at risk of being detained and deported if they report a crime. Safety increases for everyone when all individuals can report dangerous situations and seek protection from violence without the fear of being deported and separated from their families.

This legislation would expose counties to costly lawsuits.. State and local agencies that assist the federal government in the enforcement of immigration have faced significant financial burdens due to the costs of holding people for ICE without reimbursement, as well as potential costs associated with litigation against the state for constitutional violations of due process.

We believe that SB 1 and HB 51 will create a more hostile environment for all immigrants and persons of color, which would lead to further discrimination and increased racial profiling, regardless of immigration or citizenship status. As lawmakers, we urge you to oppose any legislation that would create a system of fear, intimidation, and racial profiling.

As faith leaders, we work to uplift and support immigrants in our midst. We support policies and programs that help build welcoming communities. We are praying that you may find compassion in your discernment and vote against any legislation that would hurt immigrants and reduce community safety. We urge you to think about the moral imperative to love our neighbor, welcome the immigrant, and care for the most vulnerable among us. Please help us stop SB 1 and HB 51.

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The editorial board of Forward Kentucky. Articles under this author name have been written, edited, and approved by a number of the contributors on this site, as well as the publisher.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I’m all for Legal Immigration, but NOT the Illegal aliens. Why don’t these church start doing something more for the homeless, our veterans and the citizens of Kentucky who need help.

    • I suspect that if you checked, pretty much all these faith communities are doing as much as they can for people in need. I know the church I attend gives thousands of dollars a year to various helping agencies, as well as being a leader in building a Habitat house each year.

    • Oh and by the way, those “illegal” immigrants you refer to are helping to put food on your table, among other jobs. If they left the state completely, the impact on our economy would be substantial.

      It’s time to build an immigration policy that works.

    • We started to publish the list, but decided not to after being unsure how to title some of the signatories. I think if you contact the ICIJ they would be able to share the list with you.

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