Part of a bill signed last week by the president, the measure is intended to protect churches where illegal immigrants work as volunteers. But Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., says it could also allow religious groups to protect and aid terrorists if they are volunteer missionaries or ministers. He says it's dangerous and plans to introduce a bill to repeal it.
But Bennett, a Republican, says it merely protects churches from liability and doesn't stop immigration officials from arresting illegal aliens. He said he will defend the provision if necessary.
Tancredo ''is misrepresenting what this does,'' Bennett said in an interview Monday. ''He's trying to stir people up over something that is not an issue.''
Bennett said he added the language to the farm bill after it was brought to his attention by lawyers for the Mormon Church. The church uses countless volunteers and was concerned it would be held liable if one was found to be an illegal immigrant.
According to Bennett, the law says that if an illegal immigrant volunteering for a church is picked up for illegal activities or illegal status, the church will not be held responsible.
''It does not in any way provide sanctuary, nor does it provide immunity for the church if the church gets involved in anything illegal itself,'' Bennett said.
He said he added it to the agriculture appropriations bill because it was the first available legislation. The provision was checked with the Homeland Security Department and the House and Senate judiciary committees, Bennett said.
But Tancredo said ''a religious organization could actively conceal a terrorist who is an illegal alien, transporting him across the country, and providing him with food and housing, and never break the law.''