NEW YORK – Speaking alongside the other Texas bishops at the state capital, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville implored Catholics to oppose legislation that would prohibit undocumented immigrant children from enrolling in the state’s public schools.

“This is wrong, and while the bill’s authors may not intend to cause harm, we cannot gamble with the education of innocent children,” Flores said. “To educate a child is a great work of mercy, and it’s a great good for the whole society.”

The legislation, SB 923, was introduced by Republican Texas senator Drew Springer. Its introduction in February answered a call from Texas Governor Greg Abbott. The legislation challenges the Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe, which requires public schools to educate all children, including undocumented immigrants.

Addressing the topic last May, Abbott argued that undocumented immigrant children cost the state “billions more a year just in education expenses. So you, the federal government, it’s only because of you, and it’s your responsibility to pay for that.”

Flores said the legislation “places the education of our children in serious jeopardy.”

The bishop made the comments at Catholic Advocacy Day 2023 on March 28, where all of the Texas bishops and Catholics from around the state came together “to promote life, dignity, and the common good.” The Texas legislature is currently in the middle of its 88th legislative session, which runs from January 10-May 29.

Flores opened his comments with his thoughts on the more than three dozen migrants killed in a March 27 fire at an immigration detention center in Ciudad Juárez – the northern Mexico city opposite El Paso along the U.S.-Mexico border – highlighting how “many migrants are simply shoved aside, and not noticed, and their lives are vulnerable.”

“We need nationwide a full reform of the immigration system,” Flores said. “Especially for those who are fleeing violence, and let there be no mistake, there are many innocent families, mothers and fathers and children who are fleeing violence. They should be offered protection.”

“The Texas bishops affirm our commitment to continue the church’s ministries of outreach and education to serve the common good of the whole state, but especially mindful of the vulnerable and marginalized,” he continued. “We must advocate for laws that respect the dignity of our brothers and sisters, and we must try to stop the dangerous rhetoric that makes the migrant always the one to blame.”

Other types of legislation the Texas bishops focused on included: School choice, restorative justice, healthcare, religious liberty and other social concerns. On school choice, Bishop Edward Burns said now is the time for legislators to act, so “parents will be able to truly exhibit their sacred responsibility of educating their children.”

“It is important for us that we let our legislators know that parents should have the choice of where their children go to school,” Burns said.

Speaking on healthcare, Bishop Brendan Cahill of Victoria said it’s time for the state to “put our money where our mouth is” when it comes to advocacy for every child in the state being born and living a free and full life.

“I want us to take care of every single child. So for us, health care and mental health are so important, especially in more rural areas like our Diocese of Victoria, Texas,” Cahill said.

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