With a federal judge’s decision pending on a preliminary injunction to block Texas’ “sanctuary cities” law, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller said Tuesday that religious leaders are ready to lend their support to the immigrant population despite the law.

The law, which is slated to go into effect Sept. 1, allows local law enforcement officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they legally detain and punishes elected officials who fail to honor detainer requests from federal immigration authorities. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia heard arguments on the preliminary junction against the law known as Senate Bill 4 in June, but has not yet issued a ruling.

“The majority of immigrants are poor people, and I want to talk in the name of religious leaders: We are going to help poor immigrants regardless of SB 4, with the hope that the situation will get better,” García-Siller said in Spanish during a discussion on SB 4 at the UNAM San Antonio campus. The event was sponsored by UNAM, the American Mexico Public Affairs Committee (AMXPAC), and The Mexico National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH).

“I can tell you the [Catholic dioceses] in the U.S., Texas, and San Antonio will help immigrants who find themselves in this situation, especially those in need,” García-Siller continued in Spanish. “I represent many religious leaders, and there is the spiritual component that immigrants also suffer and need our support. We are desperate for hope when it comes to this unjust, devastating, and destructive law.”

State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), who also attended the round-table discussion, told García-Siller that the religious community should be more vocal about political issues that attack certain populations, especially those “they serve.”

State Sen. José Menéndez (D26) makes a frustrated expression during the Texas SB4 Round Table discussion at UNAM Campus San Antonio.
State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) expresses frustration during a round-table discussion on SB 4 at UNAM Campus San Antonio. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Menéndez added that the 2018 primary elections are a perfect opportunity for religious leaders to sway individuals from a single-issue vote, such as on abortion, and advise them to think of the broader implications of their votes when they cast ballots.

“Many times in the religious community, certain leaders sway others to vote for the candidate who is against abortion, and I think the religious community sometimes gets used by people who are single-issue voters,” Menéndez said.

“I’m frustrated because there’s people that are elected to office who run on the pro-life ballot and they turn around and pick certain people to kick in the face – like the immigrant community or others – who are easy targets.”

Menéndez said that faith-based organizations, especially those in Bexar County and around the state, have incredible political influence and have groups that are politically active, which is why it’s “pivotal” that clear lines are drawn when it comes to taking stances on issues that affect vulnerable communities.

“I’ve sat with many evangelical ministers who are asking for help on this issue of immigration and I ask them, ‘In this election, who are you going to support?’” he said. “We need to be careful. Things and lines need to be very clear. You are with us or you aren’t. … You need to be more than a one-issue voter and think broadly [about] what’s best for your community.”

García-Siller told Menéndez that the religious community should be more consistent with their stances on political issues.

“We take care of all – the unborn and the born. We have to take care of all people,” he said. “You are right, there are some people that they just see one piece of the spectrum. I think when we talk about human rights, we need to look at the whole picture.”

García-Siller said that laws such as SB 4 create a fracture in society, especially when it comes to family unity.

“We believe in the conviction that all people are created equal and they [have] certain unalienable rights and of all these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “SB 4 threatens that. We need to fight for a comprehensive immigration reform. We are in direct and daily contract with our community through our churches and thousands of families are not only now talking about fear, but panic.”

Menéndez said that in addition to religious leaders stepping up to the plate, local business leaders and successful Mexican entrepreneurs who reside in Texas should not support elected officials or do business with people that directly attack the immigrant community or vote on discriminatory policies.

“The only reasons that we have this discriminatory law is because they don’t respect [the Latino community] and they are not afraid of us,” he said. “At what point does your ability to have financial resources play into your social conscience? How do you support people who are attacking your community? That’s just mind-boggling to me. … I’m shellshocked.

“It’s happening here – one hour and 20 minutes north of here. They’re attacking our community and we all need to stand up and say bullshit, that’s enough, basta.”

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...