Faith leaders around the country are speaking up about Alabama’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law last week the nation’s toughest anti-immigration law, surpassing Arizona’s, and some religious leaders are voicing concern.
The bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America wrote Alabama’s governor a letter of deep concern.
Lutheran Bishop H. Julian Gordy wrote Bentley, “Because the Church values family unity, justice, equity, compassion and the humane treatment of all people, I am deeply concerned about the immigration legislation that you signed into law.”
He said making local police serve as immigration officers would divert them from pursuing criminals. Gordy also said it would undermine public trust in law enforcement and make immigrants fearful of reporting crimes.
“I am also extremely troubled by the provision which would require public schools to determine immigration status of students and their parents,” wrote Gordy. “This provision would scare kids away from attending school and seems particularly mean-spirited.”
As for the portion of the law that would punish a person for transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants, Gordy wrote, “I am concerned that these provisions could impact churches and church ministry programs that serve all people who need assistance – regardless of their immigration status.”
Gordy, who has a religion degree from Mercer University, a historic Baptist school, presides over Evangelical Lutheran churches in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.
“I stand with other religious, community and business leaders in Alabama and across the country to continue advocating to Congress and the White House for leadership on federal solutions to overhaul the nation’s immigration system,” wrote Gordy. “I would encourage you to join me in advocating for federal action and refrain from approving laws that undermine our communities and punish children.”
EthicsDaily.com reported on June 10 that Christian denominations sat on the sidelines during legislative consideration of the bill.
“Opposition to the bill within the white Alabama Baptist community was not visible, nor was evidence available that other Christian denominations opposed the legislation,” said EthicsDaily.com, after hearing from multiple sources in Alabama that Christian denominational leaders had voiced publicly no disagreement with the bill.
“Maybe we Baptists in the northern part of the country need to encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith to read their Bibles, especially those words of Jesus about being a stranger and being welcomed,” wrote Larry Greenfield, executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago (ABCMC), after reading the EthicsDaily.com news story.
In ABCMC’s weekly electronic newsletter, Greenfield said, “God help us not to keep quiet.”
Hispanic evangelical activist Samuel Rodriguez, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., reacted to the law by calling on Bible-believing Christians in Alabama to seek justice.
“As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed in his letter from Birmingham, the followers of Christ did not rise up in Alabama in the matter consistent with our biblical mandate,” said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “This time silence is not an option.”
“Alabama’s new immigration law succeeds not in addressing the immigration crisis or offering a viable and sustainable solution but rather the law succeeds in fostering a spirit of racial and discriminatory practices,” said Rodriguez. “This law is anti-Christian, anti-Conservative and anti-American.”
Greater Birmingham Ministries announced on Facebook it was planning a June 25 candlelight walk and prayer service “in opposition to Alabama’s new immigration law.”
Both the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center have said they will challenge the law in court.
“I think the states have the right to do this,” said Jay Sekulow, head of the Pat Robertson-founded American Center for Law and Justice, who spoke in defense of the Alabama law.
One Alabama public school official warned that asking for the legal status of undocumented immigrants would harm enrollment.
“Once you start asking that question, you get to the point where you’re tacitly trying to deny access to school,” said Louis Fryer with the Elmore County Public Schools. “Not many people are going to try to enroll students if they are illegal immigrants.”
Both the governor and one of the bill’s chief sponsors are members of Baptist churches.
“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,” said Bentley, a member of First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa.