El Paso, TX USA, October 12, 2023 Razor barb wire along Rio Grande to prevent migrants from crossing.

El Paso, TX USA, October 12, 2023 Razor barb wire along Rio Grande to prevent migrants from crossing. ©Marcel / Adobe Stock

When Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law last month giving the state permission to enforce certain aspects of federal immigration law, the Office of the General Assembly determined it was time to revisit how the church supports members with immigrant identities and ancestry. The agency has decided to follow existing General Assembly policy and encourage Presbyterian groups to refrain from holding any national meetings at non-PC(USA) convention spaces in Texas while Federal courts determine the bill’s legality.

Under Senate Bill 4, the state of Texas can:

  • Charge, arrest, and convict individuals for illegal entry or reentry into the United States
  • Remove individuals from the United States 
  • Prohibit its state courts from delaying prosecution in cases where the accused has a pending application for lawful immigration status

The 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (2010) passed policy in support of immigrant Presbyterians in their hour of need. The policy reads:

Refrain from holding national meetings at hotels or non-PC(USA) conference centers in those states where travel by immigrant Presbyterians or Presbyterians of color or Hispanic ancestry might subject them to harassment due to legislation similar to Arizona Law SB 1070/HB2162.” 

“This is not a boycott. The intent of this policy is to acknowledge a concern for our siblings and to refrain from asking them to travel to states where their outward appearance or characteristics might subject them to harassment due to legislation similar to Arizona Law SB 1070,” said the Rev. Bronwen Boswell, Acting Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). “The policy is about how we look out for one another.”

The law would make it a state crime to cross the Texas-Mexico border between ports of entry. As a Class B misdemeanor, violators could face up to six months in jail, while repeat offenders could face a second-degree felony with the possibility of spending 20 years behind bars. Several immigration rights organizations and political leaders have argued the law is unconstitutional, saying enforcement lies with federal authorities and not the state.

“The church of Jesus Christ knows no bounds. We are a body of members of various nationalities and ancestries. PC(USA) policy asks us to acknowledge this fact and exercise care when planning national gatherings,” said Boswell. “After careful consideration, I have determined that this law, if allowed to go into effect this spring, will result in the harassment of noncitizens and people who outwardly appear to some to be noncitizens. This law will place our members at risk. For this reason, we believe it would not be in our best interest to hold large national gatherings in Texas while this law is in effect.”

Teresa Waggener, manager of immigration legal services with the Office of the General Assembly (OGA), said this does not mean that the national church will abandon “vibrant and diverse ministries” within the state of Texas.

“As this law was passed a mere month ago and during Advent, many of our questions are not yet answered. It is our hope to consult with the mid councils of Texas. We want to know how they envision this law affecting their ministries and what services are in place for when people find themselves in the grips of this new law,” she said. “This will help the national offices of the church know how to stand with Texas ministries and how to arrange smaller scale visits while keeping members and staff safe.”

Both Waggener and Boswell said mid councils will be hearing from the Office of the General Assembly  soon.

“We plan to go through this together,” said Boswell.

The Texas Senate bill is scheduled to take effect March 5.