The Alabama Legislature opened its March session with both houses passing what is being called the nation’s “cruelest, most unforgiving immigration law” on the books.
The law, HB 56, is so controversial that four Alabama church leaders have deemed it “inhumane” and have sued to block it. Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop and bishop say the new immigration law criminalizes acts of Christian compassion.
Essentially the law makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Alabama. The law criminalizes work, renting a home and failing to comply with federal registration laws that are largely obsolete. The law nullifies any contracts when one party is an undocumented immigrant. It requires the police to check the papers of people they suspect to be illegal, creating a climate of fear for many Hispanic residents of the state.
The law seeks to punish:
- Apartment owners rent to illegals
- Private citizens who might drive an illegal to the doctor
- Anyone concealing, harboring or shielding an illegal immigrant
- Public schools will be required to determine a student’s immigration status and report to the state
- Businesses knowingly employing illegal immigrant could lose their business licenses
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Justice Department have also sued, calling the law an unconstitutional intrusion on the federal government’s authority to write and enforce immigration laws. The A.C.L.U. warns that the law would violate fundamental human rights to speak and travel freely. They also argue that the law denies children the chance to go to school and expose people to harassment and racial profiling.
We’ve seen this kind of racist lawmaking before in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. The lawsuit by the four clergy leaders is what makes this law in Alabama even more of note. The church leaders say that the immigration law, which was set to go into affect on Sept 1, violates their religious freedom to perform their duties and to carry out acts of charity without regard to the legal status of the person.
Alabama has seen the Fugitive Slave Act, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights struggle led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr but as one blogger has pointed out, “Waves of anti-immigrant hostility have made many in this country forget who and what we are.” Also, given the current economy, the law seems particularly harsh on farmers who could have their business license permanently revoked.
Congress had attempted a bipartisan reform that would have enabled millions of immigrants stranded by the failed immigration system to get right with the law. We can only hope that these Alabama church leaders can successfully appeal to state’s citizen’s sense of moral obligation and reason.
As of Sept. 2, a federal district judge, Sharon Blackburn, temporarily blocked the law for one month to have enough time to address the numerous challenges HB 56 faces.