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By Felicia J. Persaud

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Mar. 8, 2023: If you were to inquire among many Republican lawmakers about their religious beliefs, you would often receive a consistent response – a professed love for Christ and the Church. According to a 2020 PRRI American Values Survey, 54 percent of Republican voters identify as Evangelical Protestant Christians, with only 18 percent being Catholics. Additionally, an investigation by the Pew Center revealed that 80 percent of Republicans claim to believe in Heaven.

Border patrol officers pull barbed wires as migrants cross the Rio Grande river to surrender to the American authorities in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on March 07, 2024. Hundreds of migrants persist in crossing the border between Mexico and the United States daily, including Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, despite the efforts of the Texas National Guard to enhance security and prevent irregular crossings of individuals. (Photo by David Peinado/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Yet, isn’t the fundamental commandment across all religions love? Love of one ’s self and others?

During this Lenten Season, I found myself breaking my pledge to refrain from cursing aloud when, on February 28th, I read about a bill proposed by a Senate Republican in the pivotal state of Arizona, known for its contentious “show me your papers” act. Now, even that racially charged act pales in comparison to the newly proposed bill from Republican Representative Justin Heap.

Heap’s bill suggests granting farmers the legal right to fatally harm individuals crossing their properties and escape consequences. Although the bill doesn’t explicitly mention killing immigrants, Heap, a Mesa Republican, indicated to the House Judiciary Committee on February 14th that his House Bill, 2843, aims to close a supposed loophole that he argues has led to “increasingly larger numbers of migrants or human traffickers moving across farm and ranch land.”

This bill, currently progressing through the state House of Representatives, seeks to amend the state’s existing “Castle Doctrine” law, allowing Arizonans to use deadly force against individuals trespassing or breaking into their homes.

The timing of Heap’s proposal coincides with an incident where an Arizona rancher stands accused of fatally shooting a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border. Rancher George Alan Kelly allegedly began shooting at a group of migrants on January 30th without issuing any warning or request to leave.

Kelly, 73, now faces a first-degree murder charge in connection with the death of one of the individuals, identified by the sheriff’s office as Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, who resided just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico.

Representative Analise Ortiz, a Democrat from the Phoenix area, condemned the bill as “disgusting” and “inhumane,” asserting that it would effectively declare “open season on migrants.”

“It’s terrifying. It would give people free rein to execute somebody and it would broaden extrajudicial killings,” Ortiz expressed to NBC News. “This is part of a broader anti-immigrant movement that we’ve seen coming from the right, which aims to dehumanize and vilify people who are coming to this country seeking asylum.”

Last week, on Feb. 28th, the state’s GOP-controlled senate passed the “Arizona Border Invasion Act,” further illustrating a hard-line stance on immigration. The legislation aims to penalize migrants who enter the United States illegally.

Local, county, or state law enforcement officers would be empowered to arrest any non-U.S. citizens entering Arizona from anywhere, except lawful entry points, as well as those previously removed from or denied entry to the country, and those refusing to comply with deportation orders.

Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs is expected to veto the bill. Arrests for illegal crossings have surpassed two million for the first time in each of the government’s last two budget years, with Arizona recently emerging as a prominent area for illegal crossings.

“I think we are seeing an effort in these bills to advance an inflammatory immigration agenda,” remarked Noah Schramm, a policy strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona. “They seem to trying to force Hobbs into a situation where she has to say ‘no,’ and then they can say she is unwilling to do anything on the border.”

Monica Villalobos, CEO and president of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the potential economic repercussions of the act on the state.

“We are opposed to any legislation that may re-introduce SB1070 consequences, disrupt business operations, hamstring workforce advancement, and tarnish our state brand once again,” she stated. “Immigrants in Arizona have a spending power of $26.4 billion and have paid more than $8.7 billion in taxes regardless of legal status. And immigrant entrepreneurs contribute more than $2.2 billion in business income.”

Alejandra Gomez, the executive director of Living United for Change in Arizona, a pro-immigrant group, criticized the procedural maneuvers as undemocratic.

“Silencing the public and constituents has become as fundamental to the Republican Party’s approach to governing as their hateful policy agenda,” she asserted in a written statement. “This is not the leadership our state deserves, and further proves that this policy package does not represent Arizona’s people.”

These developments in Arizona coincide with Republicans in various states, notably Texas, championing stringent immigration policies in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election, fueled by figures like Donald Trump.

Greg Abbott, the Governor of Texas and a self-professed devout Christian, declared in an interview earlier this year that his state was employing all possible means to prevent migrants from illegally crossing the border, stopping short of endorsing lethal force, “because of course the Biden administration would charge us with murder.”

Federal law already prohibits unauthorized entry into the U.S. Yet, Republicans in Arizona and Texas argue that the federal government’s efforts are insufficient, necessitating additional state authority.

Fortunately, a federal judge recently blocked a new Texas law granting police extensive powers to arrest suspected migrants entering the U.S. illegally, rebuffing Abbott’s immigration enforcement endeavors.

This injunction coincided with President Joe Biden and his likely Republican challenger’s visit to Brownsville, Texas.

Biden’s visit, however, drew criticism from activists who lamented his failure to meet with immigration attorneys, non-profits, and advocates, instead conferring with elected leaders, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and local law enforcement officers.

Biden reiterated his call for Congress to pass a bipartisan immigration bill, which he touted as the “toughest set of border security reforms we’ve ever seen in this country.” The proposal includes a “Border Emergency Authority” allowing summary deportation of individuals entering between ports of entry without asylum application opportunities. Additionally, he pledged more resources for Border Patrol recruitment, while Secretary Mayorkas claimed increased removals or returns compared to previous fiscal years.

Nevertheless, the Texas Civil Rights Project criticized Biden for prioritizing meetings with CBP officials over engaging with immigration advocates, accusing him of neglecting immigration reform and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis at the border.

As the political discourse around immigration intensifies, particularly targeting immigrants of color, I pose a simple question this Lenten season to all self-professed Christian, right-wing lawmakers, and voters alike: what would Jesus do?

Felicia J. Persaud is the publisher of, a daily news outlet focusing on Black immigrant issues.

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