In Birmingham, Alabama today, the state goes to court to defend its new immigration law, which is set to go into effect Sept. 1. The United States has sued to block the law from being implemented, saying essentially that immigration is a federal issue.
The Alabama law has not only raised the ire of the feds, it has also caused numerous mainstream–even conservative–churches to join as plaintiffs in the suit.
The Alabama law would make it a crime to feed or transport anyone in the country illegally, and the churches say that this would criminalize the sort of Christ-like behavior the churches seek to emulate.
In a day when the right wing of the Republican Party seems dominated by religious views and when that same right wing seems hell-bent on enacting Alabama type legislation nationally, this is a curious juxtaposition to say the least.
At First United Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham, clergy from around the city take turns leading a prayer service called in response to the new immigration law.
Episcopal priest Herman Afanador, Baptist pastor Amanda Duckworth, and Methodist minister Melissa Self Patrick are part of a growing chorus of critics who say the Alabama law goes too far, criminalizing all kinds of contact with undocumented residents. It’s illegal, for example, to knowingly enter into a contract with, to rent to, to harbor or to transport illegal immigrants.
The state’s United Methodist, Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches have sued, arguing it violates their religious freedom.
Patrick, who runs the inner-city ministry of the United Methodist church in Birmingham, says being a good Samaritan could now be illegal.
“This new legislation goes against the tenets of our Christian faith — to welcome the stranger, to offer hospitality to anyone,” she says.
Some here see the issue through the lens of Alabama’s history, including Lawton Higgs, 71, a retired Methodist minister.
“And I’m a recovering racist, transformed by the great fruits of the civil rights movement in this city,” he says.
Higgs says he and his church were on the wrong side of that moral battle in the ’60s, so he is pleased to see the churches entering the fray now. He likens Alabama’s immigration law to Jim Crow — legislating second-class status for illegal immigrants.
In speaking with NPR, Reverend Robert Lancaster of the Elkmont United Methodist Church, said he supports the law for the most part but then noted, “You cannot tell a church that if there’s a man hungry out there, a family hungry out there, that they can’t feed them just because they don’t have a green card. That’s not Christian.”
Outside The Beltway goes through the law point by point in this article, which also looks at the religious element.
Hernan Afandador-Kafuri, priest of LaGracia Episcopal Church of Birmingham said in an affidavit that about 95 percent of the people served by his church’s social services to Hispanics “lack immigration status.” He said his church provides transportation for doctor’s visits, English lessons and other services to Hispanic members.
“We do not check any documents or identification and do not plan to. We would never deny anyone services based on their lack of immigration status and do not plan to do so. We are Christians and we serve everyone,” Afandador-Kafuri said.