Last week, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley made a morally indefensible decision. He signed HB 658, which intensifies the climate of fear that already hangs over Alabama like low dark clouds before a hurricane.
Bentley once claimed that HB 658 would simplify HB 56 — the current anti-immigrant legislation that catapulted Alabama to the national stage. If this is simplification, then I’d like to see Bentley’s version of messed up. HB 658’s additional punitive measures now have created a more problematic situation that exacerbates the current oppression of some of the most vulnerable souls in Alabama.
The new law is reckless. HB 658 calls for the creation of an online public database to expose the names of all undocumented immigrants who have appeared in court. In addition, the law targets innocent children by requiring schools to check the immigration status of students.
We arrived at this point as a result of missconceptions and prejudices. Before HB 56 was enacted, immigration hadn’t been an issue in Alabama. The undocumented workforce comprises only 2.5 percent of the state’s population. Now, with the passage of HB 56 and HB 658, the state has sanctioned and actively engaged in legalized scapegoating of a vast minority of its residents. This is deeply un-American.
The United States of America is the kind of democracy that guarantees the protection of minorities against the potential tyranny of majority rule. The 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments to the Constitution guaranteed minorities’ equal protection of the law. These basic constitutional protections are compromised when the law itself encourages racial and ethnic profiling against minority populations. It should not be assumed that all Latinos, people of middle-eastern descent, or people who are foreign-born are unauthorized residents, but HB 56 and HB 658 encourages authorities and fellow residents to deem these groups as inherently suspicious and worthy of investigation.
Legislators argue that they created HB 658 to protect citizens from immigrants who are stealing their jobs. But a recent report shows that there is no substantial evidence to prove that the unemployment rate is lowered by the harsh immigration laws.
Since the inception of HB 56, the faith community has responded with faith-rooted activism. United through various efforts, a particularly poignant action included the launch of a unique TV ad campaign, which exposed the severe effect that HB 56 has on churches, families and communities. The faith community has urged the repeal of HB 56 and all other re-writes of the bill on the grounds that these laws violate the call of God to care for and love our neighbors and to protect “the least of these.”
Bentley is aware of the repercussions that families face. Editor Frances Coleman, who sat in a meeting with the governor where he was questioned about Alabama’s severe immigration law said, “his eyes revealed genuine sorrow at the thought of frightened immigrant children and their fearful parents.”
But even this was not enough:"If they read what I read in the Bible,” Bentley said, “the Bible says you always obey the law."
Bentley adamantly upholds the “rule of law” even when his law runs counter to the law of God:
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.
Ivone Guillen is Sojourners' Immigration Campaigns Fellow. A native of Washington State, where she lived and worked amongst immigrant communities, Ivone graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., in 2009 with a degree in international studies and Spanish, and worked with Tierra Vida (Land of Life) as program coordinator for C.A.S.A. and was a immigration policy fellow at Bread For The World before joining Sojourners in September 2011.
Image: By Ryan Rodrick Beiler for Shutterstock.