Kentucky Politics

More than 300 faith leaders have called on Kentucky legislators to stop advancing a bill that would ban agencies, cities and public employees from adopting so-called “sanctuary” immigration policies.

Sanctuary policies typically discourage agencies or employees from cooperating with immigration officials. Federal officials have said Kentucky doesn’t have any cities that employ sanctuary policies.

But the issue has become a hot topic in a year when three-quarters of the districts in the state legislature, Mitch McConnell’s U.S. Senate seat and the presidency are on the November ballot.

Ryan Eller, a pastor at Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church in Louisville, said that the bill banning sanctuary policies sends a bad message to all immigrants.

“It’s kind of hard to see how this bill would not lead inevitably to racial profiling and discrimination if it’s put into law,” Eller said.

The faith leaders wrote a letter to legislators expressing concern over the bill, saying that sacred texts “remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us.”

Ten of those faith leaders held a press conference on the Capitol grounds on Thursday.

Lori Kyle, a minister at First Unitarian Church in Louisville, said that immigrants are a vital part of the economy. She said she ran a community ministry that exclusively hired immigrants to give them a fresh start.

“Oh, how motivated they are to do it and what fabulous employees they were to have. They bring goodness to the economic state of our land here,” Kyle said.

The bill has passed out of the state Senate and awaits a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of the anti-sanctuary city measure have said it would ensure that Kentucky government agencies cooperate with federal immigration authorities and make the state safer.

Studies show that immigrants do not commit crimes at a higher rate than native-born citizens.

But Republican leaders of the state Senate have made the anti-sanctuary cities bill a top priority this year, citing safety concerns and the Courier Journal’s recent investigation of a Mexican drug kingpin whose cartel has a presence in Kentucky.

Opponents to the measure worry that the bill would require public employees to conduct immigration enforcement if federal officials ask them to.

Edgardo Mansilla, executive director of the Americana World Community Center in Louisville, said that immigrant families are already afraid of what could happen.

“If we are in a state that is welcoming, that needs workers, this bill goes against what we need from the practical point of view it’s absolutely unnecessary,” Mansilla.

Sponsors of the bill have included several exemptions from the proposal, including public schools, rape crisis centers, public defenders, health departments and children’s advocacy centers. Universities are not exempted.

The bill’s sponsor Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah, has singled out Louisville’s policy requiring local police to only assist immigration officials if they have a warrant signed by a judge or if there is a risk for danger or violence as a possible violation of the proposal.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.