Bishop, advocates oppose Mississippi bill to outlaw sanctuary cities

By Maureen Smith

Miss. (CNS) — A bill that would keep agencies, cities and college campuses in
Mississippi from offering sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants would not keep
communities safe and goes against the Christian tenet of caring for those in
need, said Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson.

issued a statement Feb. 15 opposing S.B. 2710, also known as the “sanctuary
cities” bill, which passed the state Senate in a 32-16 vote Feb. 9. The bill
goes to the state House for consideration.

measure would prohibit cities and institutions of higher learning from declaring
themselves sanctuary cities. There are currently no sanctuary cities in the
state, although the city of Jackson proposed such a declaration last year.

“As Christians we are called to welcome the stranger and
care for those in need. As citizens, we are called to keep our
communities strong and safe. We feel that the so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ bill
being debated right now in the Mississippi Legislature damages both of those
efforts,” wrote Bishop Kopacz.

a sanctuary city, local law enforcement would not be forced to act as federal
immigration agents, like the officers of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In fact, they would be prohibited from asking a person they detained about his
or her immigration status. S.B. 2710 would prohibit cities from enacting
sanctuary policies.

bill’s opening statement says it would apply to entities such as “a state
agency, department, political subdivision of this state, county, municipality,
university, college, community college or junior college, or any agent,
employee or officer thereof.”

advocates said the bill raises several concerns.

McGowan, an immigration attorney for the Catholic Charities Migrant Resource
Center based in Jackson, said the vague language, especially in relation to
schools, opens up a number of potential problems.

first provision is potentially extremely dangerous. It could allow any state
official, or anyone working for the state government to report any individual
to federal immigration authorities. In other words, it prevents the state and
local agencies from prohibiting its employees from reporting an individual to
ICE,” said McGowan in an email to the Mississippi Catholic, newspaper of the
Jackson Diocese.

means, undocumented — or suspected undocumented — individuals seeking
services in any state or local agency — courts, police protection, K-12
education, higher education, state hospital, state health and mental health
agencies — could be reported to ICE by a disgruntled employee,” McGowan

also means an agency “could not prohibit its employees from doing so,” she
continued. “Now, presumably that person may be protected in some cases by
privacy laws, but I am afraid that this provision would prevent individuals
from seeking state services, which include reporting violent crimes to the

to Christy Williams, an attorney at the headquarters of the Catholic Legal
Immigration Network, known as CLINIC, in Silver Spring, Maryland, the provision
also opens up municipalities to potential liability. A school employee who
discloses a student’s immigration information could be violating federal privacy
laws and the school could be held liable.

any officer reports a person they suspect is in the country without legal
permission but that person turns out to have a valid legal status, the local
agency can be sued. CLINIC highlighted one example from Allentown, Pennsylvania,
when officers arrested a U.S. citizen for alleged drug crimes.

had both his driver’s license and Social Security card with him at the time of
the arrest and was eventually found innocent,” according to a CLINIC document
about sanctuary cities. “During his time in custody, the police called ICE
based on the presumption that, because of his race, he was undocumented.

being documented, the citizen was held for three days after posting bail based
on an ICE detainer. He was released only after an ICE agent interrogated him
and confirmed his citizenship. The U.S. citizen sued local and county officials
in 3rd District Federal Court, leading to verdicts in his favor and settlement
costs totaling nearly $150,000,” the document said.

a local agency reports someone to ICE, the federal agents may ask the local
agency to detain the suspect. The local agency has to absorb the cost of
housing, feeding and caring for the person until ICE can process the case. That
money is rarely reimbursed to state and local agencies.

of the Mississippi bill say that because it is vague, it also could erode the relationship
first responders have with their communities. If immigrants, even those in the
country legally, believe police officers, medical personnel or firefighters are
going to report them to immigration officials, they may hesitate to call for
much-needed help.

said she thinks if the bill becomes law, it “would have a chilling effect on
individuals seeking state services” such as medical care, mental health care
and police protection,” and would negatively affect immigrants’ educational opportunities. She
also thinks it would subject victims of violent crimes and/or abuse “to greater

Donald Trump has pledged to strip federal funds from jurisdictions that declare
themselves “sanctuary cities.”

urge lawmakers and advocates to oppose S.B. 2710,” Bishop Jackson said in his
statement. “We will, as a Catholic community, continue to work with immigrants
and refugees — welcoming their contributions to our community and culture —
even as we pray for a just solution to the challenges of immigration and

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is editor of the Mississippi Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Jackson.

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