Religious leaders maintain that Alabama’s immigration law, as it stands now, would punish those who seek to assist immigrants or even transport them to worship services. Gov. Bentley and Republican leaders in the Legislature, however, argue that now is the time for the state to get a handle on illegal immigration.
“We have a real problem with illegal immigration in this country. I campaigned for the toughest immigration laws, and I’m proud of the Legislature for working tirelessly to create the strongest immigration bill in the country,” Bentley said shortly after signing the bill into law.
Those who oppose all or parts of the law say that it’s mean-spirited and will have a negative impact on the Alabama economy while delivering yet another race-based bruise to a state that was a major battleground in the fight for civil rights.
“This law revisits the state’s painful racial past and tramples the rights of all Alabama residents,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center. “It should never become the law of the land.”
The Greater Birmingham Ministries’ Douglas said that faith groups in Alabama began discussions about immigration long before the Legislature passed the anti-immigration law. The Alabama Faith Council was formed about six years ago, he explained, bringing together Christians, Jews, Muslims and other faiths.
“We said, let’s come together on those things we can agree on. For all of us, there is the basic text: ‘Extend preferential love for the least of these.’ That includes assisting strangers among us. Jesus was a stranger,” Douglas said.
While Judge Blackburn has temporarily delayed enforcement of the law, Douglas pointed out that this does not mean victory. However, “I’m happy to know that she is taking time to do more research,” he said. “I think it’s an indication that she is not going to pass all of it.”
At a rally scheduled for Sept. 1 at 5:30 p.m. in downtown Birmingham, faith leaders again will call together those who oppose the law. “We have to persevere,” Douglas said. “Fear is what drives much of the popular support for the new law. We have to temper that sense of fear.”
Denise Stewart is a freelance writer in Alabama.