April 24, 2012 STATEMENT – LIRS Statement for Hearing: “Examining the Constitutionality and Prudence of State and Local Governments Enforcing Immigration Law”

Press Contact: Jon Pattee, LIRS Assistant Director for Media Relations
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

BALTIMORE, April 24, 2012—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, is deeply concerned that a number of new state immigration laws contradict the biblical mandate to care for sojourners and about the role of state and local law enforcement in enforcing federal immigration laws. “LIRS supports and promotes welcoming communities across the United States,” said Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “However, we have heard countless stories from Lutherans, migrants, and other partners who express profound concern that the increased involvement of state and local police in immigration issues is gravely undermining the spirit of welcome across the nation and in local communities.”

In April 2010 the Arizona state legislature passed the controversial Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (S.B. 1070), a law that requires state and local law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of any individual they reasonably suspect of being in the United States illegally. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has sued the State of Arizona and tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case. LIRS has joined two amicus briefs in support of DOJ’s claim that the law is unconstitutional. “S.B. 1070 has created a culture of fear within Arizona,” said the Rev. Stephen S. Talmage, Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and a member of the Conference of Bishop’s immigration task force. “Many community members are now reluctant to approach law enforcement for fear of being questioned or detained.”

In response to Congress’ continued failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation, many states have followed Arizona’s lead and proposed similar legislation in 2011 and 2012. Last year Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah all passed state laws that send the flawed and regrettable message that the only way to address our broken immigration system is to make life so miserable for undocumented migrants that they are forced to leave the state.

The Alabama law, H.B. 56, takes a number of steps further than Arizona’s S.B. 1070 law and represents the most punitive state immigration law in the United States. H.B. 56 forces Alabama public elementary and secondary schools to determine and report the immigration status of students, denies undocumented migrants from higher education opportunities, criminalizes transporting or renting property to undocumented migrants, and prohibits individuals from encouraging undocumented migrants to visit or reside in the state of Alabama. In addition to deep concerns from the faith community, law enforcement, school officials, and the business community have all expressed concerns with the bill’s harmful impacts on all Alabamians. Not surprisingly, the state legislature is admitting to buyer’s remorse and is discussing modifying a number of the law’s most harmful provisions.

LIRS hears growing concerns from Lutheran congregations about the broken immigration system and the impacts of such harmful legislation. “For people of faith committed to loving the sojourners in their congregations and communities, it is devastating to see immigrants and their children placed at risk,” said Eli Hernandez, LIRS Assistant Director for Education and Outreach.

When state and local law enforcement dedicate their limited time and personnel to immigration enforcement, resources are diverted away from fighting more serious crimes, community trust and safety are undermined, and vulnerable migrants are at risk of being unnecessarily swept up into detention. The following are a few examples of problems that arise when state and local law enforcement assume a role in enforcing U.S. immigration laws.


Irma Bañales, a U.S. citizen and Director for Hispanic-Latino Ministries of the ELCA Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod, was on a road trip with her daughter when an Arizona sheriff pulled her over. The sheriff alleged she was following another vehicle too closely. He interrogated her about whether she was transporting drugs, money or arms, asked for her Social Security number, and searched the car.

Rev. Kevin S. Kanouse, bishop of the ELCA Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod, reflected, “For half an hour or longer, a completely innocent woman and her daughter were intimidated in the hot Arizona sun on the side of the road by a police officer … And for what reason?” Ms. Bañales and her daughter, both U.S. citizens, felt humiliated, violated, and frightened by the experience.

New Jersey

In late 2006 the Newark, New Jersey City Council approved a resolution preventing police agencies from asking community residents who have not been arrested to prove their immigration status. Rev. Maristela Freiberg, a member of the ELCA New Jersey Synod’s immigration task force, has cited Newark’s community policing policy as a positive step towards improving the relationship between local police and migrant residents.

“However, the implementation of Secure Communities here in Newark has created a chilling effect and is undermining community trust and safety,” said Rev. Freiberg. “Immigrant victims and witnesses do not want to report crimes to law enforcement because they think it could jeopardize their ability to remain in the United States.”


Bjorn Peterson, a member of the Lutheran young adult movement, the 99 Collective, regularly visits the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington to provide ministry to detained immigrants and their families. Mr. Peterson knows a migrant woman whose husband was recently deported. Although she has legal status in the United States, she is fearful that she could also be deported. “Even if she were to witness a crime, she says that she would not call the police – even the fire department,” said Mr. Peterson. “Further collaboration between immigration authorities and local law enforcement would erode community trust and exacerbate fears.” If criminals know they can exploit communities because immigrants are too afraid to report crimes, all community members are at risk.

LIRS recognizes that the U.S. immigration system is in serious need of reform. However, instead of creating a patchwork of state laws that hurts families, sows distrust in communities, and diverts resources away from fighting more serious crimes, LIRS encourages state legislators to seek creative and compassionate ways to build welcome for migrants and to continue to pressure Congress and the Administration to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws and policies.

LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with and on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration, and other vulnerable populations and provides services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners.
If you have questions about this statement, please contact Eric B. Sigmon, LIRS Director for Advocacy, at 202/626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

To read the November 2, 2011 letter from 58 ELCA bishops expressing concerns with state immigration laws and urging Congress to support immigration reform, click here.

To read the November 1, 2011 letter from the Rev. S. Hanson, ELCA Presiding Bishop, to President Obama in support of immigration reform, click here.

To read the August 19, 2011 LIRS press release on the passage of two immigration resolutions at the ELCA Assembly, click here.

To read the June 24, 2011 LIRS statement in support of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011, please click here.

To read the June 9, 2011 letter from the Rev. H. Julian Gordy, ELCA Bishop of the Southeastern Synod and Convener of the Conference of Bishop’s immigration task force, click here.

To read the May 3, 2011 LIRS statement about state and local law enforcement participation in interpreting and enforcing immigration laws, click here.

To read the April 14, 2011 LIRS letter in support of immigrant integration legislation, click here.

To read the January 24, 2011 LIRS statement lamenting harmful impacts of proposed state legislation, click here.