Alliance signs letter opposing Safe Act

Faith groups including the Alliance of Baptists say proposed legislation to improve border security would criminalize the work of churches ministering in good faith to people in need.

By Bob Allen

The Alliance of Baptists joined other faith organizations and leaders in an Aug. 21 letter opposing a law pending in Congress to crack down on crimes committed by aliens living in the United States illegally.

Introduced in the House of Representatives June 6 by Border Security Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act aims to increase cooperation between local police and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and close loopholes in federal law that proponents believe allow criminal aliens to enter and stay.

trey gowdy“Government’s first duty is public safety, but under this Administration, we have seen our immigration laws go unenforced, gaps in our national security persist, and criminal aliens released onto our streets,” Gowdy said. “This current state of affairs cannot continue, and Congress must establish accountability measures so the immigration laws we pass will in fact be enforced.”

Supporters of H.R. 2278 — also known as the SAFE Act — say it would make it easier for immigration officials to do their job and harder for foreign nationals who pose a national security risk to enter and remain in the United States. Opponents say it would turn millions of undocumented immigrants into criminals overnight and state and local law enforcement officers around the county into immigration agents.

Faith leaders signing the Aug. 21 open letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) objected specifically to provisions in the SAFE Act that would criminalize religious leaders and houses of worship that provide humanitarian assistance to all persons regardless of immigration status. They said those provisions “run directly counter to our beliefs in generosity, hospitality and welcome.”

Section 314 of the SAFE Act would make it a crime to transport undocumented immigrants and “encourage or induce a person to reside in the Unites States” if that person lacks immigration status. The penalties for engaging in such activities range from three to 20 years in prison.

“People of faith commonly accept into their congregations and communities all newcomers and those in need without checking immigration paperwork,” the faith leaders said. “Providing transportation in particular would criminalize ordinary acts of kindness and would even criminalize members of mixed-status families traveling together.”

“Not only would passage of the SAFE Act create greater anxiety among migrant communities, it could lead members in places of worship to refuse to engage in acts of kindness and hospitality for fear of being prosecuted, fined or imprisoned,” the letter continued. “Such a law that prohibits compassion and acts of humanitarian assistance surely violate sacred principles of helping neighbors and showing love to all of God’s children.”

Faith leaders urged Congress to oppose any law “that would criminalize the hospitality that is at the heart of our mission to love and welcome the newcomer” and support legislation “that places greater emphasis on compassion, unity and God’s love for all seeking protection and opportunity.”