Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley signed on June 9 the nation’s harshest anti-immigration law, surpassing Arizona, while the state’s Christian denominations sat on the sidelines.

“We have a real problem with illegal immigration in this country,” said Bentley, after he signed the bill that passed by a significant margin in both state houses.

A member of First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa, Bentley said, “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 had made immigration a priority issue during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

During the campaign, Bentley said, “Now, I don’t know that we need anything as tough as Arizona … but, I admire Arizona. They were willing to do what they thought was necessary for their state and I’m going to do that as governor. Not necessarily that bill, but, we’re gonna do what’s necessary.”

After the bill had passed both houses, Phyllis Schlafly, long-time leader of Christian conservatives, wrote, “Alabama has suddenly become the leader in comprehensive immigration reform, passing up Arizona.”

Writing for the Huntsville Times editorial board, Mike Hollis said, “Many Alabamians will be heartened to know that their Legislature has just passed one of the nation’s toughest, if not the toughest, bill to run illegal immigrants out of the state, a measure some say goes beyond the law passed in Arizona a year ago.”

The New York Times reported, “Alabama has passed a sweeping bill to crack down on illegal immigrants that both supporters and opponents call the toughest of its kind in the country, going well beyond a law Arizona passed last year that caused a furor there.”

House Bill 56 passed in the House of Representatives by a 67-29 vote and was overwhelmingly passed on a 25-7 vote in the Senate.

“A person without valid federal alien registration or other proof of legal presence in the United States would, just for being in Alabama, be guilty of a crime, under a bill passed … by the Legislature,” reported the Birmingham News. “The crime, ‘willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration document,’ would be punishable by a $100 fine and 30 days in jail.”

The newspaper said that the bill “would make it a crime for a person who is an unauthorized alien to ‘knowingly apply for work, solicit work in a public or private place or perform work as an employee or independent contractor’ in Alabama. That crime would be punishable by a fine of not more than $500.”

If a person knew that they were transporting or harboring an undocumented immigrant, they would be committing a crime and subject to punishment of up to a year of jail time.

Businesses would be required to use E-Verify, a federal program to determine an individual’s eligibility for employment, reported the Birmingham News.

Schlafly said: “HB56 requires Alabama public schools to ascertain students’ immigration status, giving parents of foreign-born children the opportunity to confirm lawful status by providing a sworn statement. It also compels public schools to inform taxpayers, who are footing the costs, of the total cost of educating illegal aliens in the schools.”

One of the chief bill sponsors, state Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale), a member of First Baptist Church of Gardendale, told a breakfast gathering in Cullman County earlier this year that Republicans needed to “empty the clip” on the immigration issue, according to the Cullman Times.

“The reality is that if you allow illegal immigration to continue in your area, you will destroy yourself eventually,” said the senator.

While Beason told the Gadsden Times that his “empty the clip” remark was taken out of context, he said, “I talk about people who ignore the problem and people (who) won’t take a shot at the problem and then those who continue to shoot until it’s fixed.”

His comment came a month after the assassination attempt on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and the killing of six other individuals in Tucson, Ariz.

Saying his bill was a jobs bill, Beason said, “We have a problem with an illegal workforce that displaces Alabama workers. We need to put those people back to work.”

Opposition to the bill within the white Alabama Baptist community was not visible, nor was evidence available that other Christian denominations opposed the legislation.

Multiple sources told that Christian denominational leaders voiced publicly no disagreement with the bill.

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