Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
The Injustice of Alabama's Immigration Law
by Jenny Yang
Over the past several years, there has been a stalemate in Congress over immigration reform. As a result, state legislatures—frustrated with the broken immigration system—have taken the matter into their own hands. In the first half of 2011 alone, the legislatures of all 50 states and Puerto Rico considered 1,592 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees while enacting 257 laws and resolutions. The most draconian law passed was the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act (earlier HB 56) signed into law on June 9, 2011.
HB 56 touches on every aspect of an immigrant’s life in the United State, stipulating conditions in which immigrants can rent housing, earn a living, enter into contracts and interact with law enforcement officials, as well as conditions in which immigrant children can attend schools. Most alarming to the Christian community is a section of the bill that would criminalize certain behavior related to transporting, harboring, or shielding unauthorized aliens, which would criminalize ministries such as picking up undocumented immigrants for church or providing services to immigrants through thrift stores. “The law,” said Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, “attacks our core understanding of what it means to be a church.” Several provisions of the law were recently enjoined by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, including a section which required schools to collect data on the legal status of their students. The state, however, is enforcing other provisions of the law which were not blocked, including a requirement for police during stops or arrests to check the legal status of those they suspect to be in the country without legal status.
Laws of this kind institutionalize segregation in our communities and justify such segregation by creating a whole subset of laws that determine how immigrants without legal status are to be treated and interacted with. Such anti-immigrant laws are passed under the misconception that our federal government is not doing anything to stop illegal immigration, when in fact, our federal government deported a record number 396,906 immigrants last year and spent over $17 billion on border security. Also driving these laws is the mistaken view that immigrants do not contribute to the economic vitality of the state. In reality, undocumented immigrants make up a significant percentage of farm workers in Alabama. Farmers in Alabama have started to protest the law saying that despite efforts to hire native-born Americans and pay higher wages, many local people are not willing to do arduous agricultural labor. Many local crops have thus been left to rot in the fields.
Immigrants also contribute enormously to the social fabric of any community. Immigrants are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It says in 1 Corinthians 12 that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together. Laws like HB 56 will inhibit the work of churches in Alabama to carry out the good news of the Gospel to their immigrant neighbors, people made in the very image of God. State-based anti-immigrant laws will do little to stop illegal immigration into the United States. Instead, neighbors that have gotten along for years will suddenly be divided along the lines of legal status. Congress—not the states—should enact comprehensive immigration reform which will make our borders more secure, reform our visa system to make it harder for people to enter illegally and easier to enter legally, while bringing people out of the shadows to correct their status and earn the right to stay in this country.
Christians have a responsibility to seek justice (Isa 1:17) and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Prov 31:8), and this rings especially true in the immigration debate. Many immigrants are here without legal status and are unable to speak for themselves in a climate that often denigrates their very presence in our country. If Christians are to truly believe that God’s hand is in the movement of people and that He determines “the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” so that “men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” (Acts 17:27), we must create a more welcoming community in which Biblical principles of welcome, compassion and justice are carried out in our actions, attitudes and also public policies.
—Jenny Yang is the Director of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”