Living in poverty has always been a struggle, but in Alabama being poor could land you in prison. According to a recent story in The New York Times, Alabama resident Gina Ray was locked up for over a month because she couldn’t pay fees and fines related to minor traffic offenses. Speeding while poor shouldn’t land someone in jail. This punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
Why would such morally outrageous penalties be imposed for such minor violations? Because criminal justice has become big business. Private companies are making millions of dollars running prisons, administering probation systems, and providing health care to those living behind bars.
We lost a bitter legislative battle this year, as Alabama Legislators voted to make the nation's most toxic anti-immigrant law more poisonous than anyone imagined. Added to the notorious HB 56 is a requirement that the names and faces of undocumented persons be plastered on the web and in prominent public places — the new law stops just short of putting targets on their backs.
Teachers are still required to interrogate schoolchildren about their immigration status. People of faith, Good Samaritans, and family members are now felons if they knowingly drive five undocumented children to the store, the doctor, or Vacation Bible School. Racial profiling provisions make every trip to school, work, and church a nightmare.
The legislators — all Republicans — must have laughed all the way to golf games waiting for them back in their districts. They think they won.
Here we are today, caught in an economic slump, finding ways to once again dehumanize those that we encouraged to come. The very people who have harvested our food, built our homes and served us over the past 30-plus years, we now declare criminals.
In my beloved Alabama, where 3 percent of the population (largely Hispanic) is estimated to be undocumented, our state government has created the harshest and most egregious anti-immigrant laws in the country. Rep. Micky Hammon and Sen. Scott Beason, sponsors and writers of HB56, stated that these laws would create an atmosphere of “self deportation.” I can only wonder how Native Americans might feel about that concept.
HB56 — passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley in June 2011 — has now been replaced by HB658. The stated purpose of the new legislation was to simplify HB56 and make enforcement less complicated. In the process, stricter guidelines and harsher treatment were incorporated while simplification was ignored.
I am compelled to look at this law as a child of God within the Christian faith, accepting that all people in this world are my brothers and sisters, created by the God who breathed life into me and into them, making us one family.
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.
In an uncharacteristic move, televangelist and bestselling author Joel Osteen, senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, stepped into the political arena briefly to talk about Alabama's House Bill 56, the strictest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the nation.
Osteen, who unlike many of his television compatriots, normally eschews entering into the political fray, was in Alabama last week for an event and during an interview with a local television station, a reporter asked him about having to choose between faith and breaking civil laws, in the context of HB56, which would make it illegal for undocumental immigrants to receive any public benefits at the state or local level, attend publicly-owned colleges or universities, transport, harbor, employ or rent property to undocumented immigrants in Alabama.
The 30-second ad features Rev. Steve Jones, senior pastor at Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham.
''We believe in reaching out and ministering to our community. Yet under Alabama's immigration law, we could be prosecuted for following God's call to be good Samaritans,” Jones says in the ad.
February was Black History Month. I ended it by pressing for immigration reform in the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.
When I landed in Birmingham, Alabama two weeks ago, it struck me that I was on my way to Samford University — the flagship University of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It struck me that the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest evangelical denomination in the country and among the most conservative. It struck me that Alabama used to boast that it had the harshest Jim Crow laws and law enforcement during the Civil Rights era. Now it boasts the harshest anti-immigrant law in the nation.
Passed into law on June 9, 2011, HB56 criminalizes Alabamans’ daily associations with immigrants who cannot prove their legal status. Giving an undocumented immigrant a ride can result in criminal arrest. The legislation also prohibits all businesses (including schools, the water company, and the telephone company among others) from conducting business transactions on any level with anyone who cannot prove their legal status. Tens of thousands of Latino families fled Alabama within weeks of the law’s passage. Businesses closed, schools lost huge percentages of their students, and vegetables were left to rot in the fields.
I was in Birmingham to speak at the G92 South Conference, a one-day conference for students and pastors hosted on Samford’s sprawling campus. G92 is a reference to the 92 times the Hebrew word Ger is used in the Bible. Ger means stranger or sojourner. The conference began last autumn at Cedarville University in Ohio. It is now being replicated on Christian college campuses across the country. Samford University was the second campus to agree to host the conference.
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MOBILE, Ala. — You might think a candidate's ouster from the post he is seeking to regain would play a central role in a statewide election.
Yet Republican Roy Moore's forced exit, almost a decade ago, as Alabama's chief justice over a Ten Commandments monument seems only a murmur on the campaign trail.
Voters don't often ask about it, and the other two candidates in the March GOP primary hardly ever talk about it.
Moore plunged Alabama into a showdown in 2003 when he erected a 5,280-pound granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama judicial building in Montgomery. A federal judge declared the monument to be a violation of the separation of church and state and ordered Moore to remove it.
When Moore refused, a special panel of retired state judges voted unanimously to remove him from office for violating a higher-court order.
Whenever possible, I plan my Saturday errands such that I’ll be able catch part of “This American Life” on public radio as I drive and I’ve often found myself sitting in the grocery store parking lot to hear the end of a story.
One recent Saturday, the show’s theme — which ties together each of its non-fiction stories — was the biblical truism that “you reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7), and most of the program was dedicated to examining the consequences — intended and otherwise — of Alabama’s controversial, toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, HB 56, which passed last June.
Whether what is happening in Alabama as a result of this law — and, as the program reveals, a great deal is happening, even if most of us outside of the state aren’t paying attention — was the intention of the bill’s authors and supporters is not entirely clear. What is clear, from a Christian perspective, is that the effects are devastating.
What most saddened me in the program was the statement of a young undocumented woman named Gabriella that, since the passage of HB 56, she finds herself unwelcome everywhere. “Even in the church,” she says, “you find people that… don't want to talk at you. And they don't want to give the peace to you.”
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During this 35-minute audio story, Hitt walks through many aspects of the immigration bill and introduces real stories of people interacting with it — from Scott Beason, a Republican senator who was the primary sponsor for the bill last season, to Latino families pulling their kids out of school, quitting their jobs, and remaining safe in their isolated neighborhoods.
Hitt demonstrates how this is not only a huge issue for the state, but also for the church. A woman shares that people at her congregation are suspect when passing the peace, some won’t even shake hands. But again, this is what HB56 is about: making life uncomfortable to the point that the undocumented people will leave because it’s easier to flee than to stay.
On Monday's Colbert Report, Sojourners friend and Civil Rights activist Scott Douglas, discussed the overturn of Alabama's immigration law with host (and possible presidentail candidate) Stephen Colbert, and calls for a single, fair and national immigration law for the entire country.
Douglas is executive director of the Greater Birmingham Ministries in Alabama.
Watch his conversation with Colbert inside the blog...
My adoptive dad’s family goes back five generations in Mississippi. They endured the most ruthless lashes of American slavery and the most brutal state-sponsored terrorism during the Jim Crow legal regime. In fact, my dad personally had a brush with the Klan as a child. The Ku Klux Klan broke up an evening meeting at his grandparents’ church in the early 1950s. He doesn’t remember much about the night, except the terror. In his adult years, he looks back and realizes they were probably organizing.
Organizing… in Mississippi… before Rosa Parks said “No” in Montgomery, Ala. My grandparents were organizing.
Yet even my family history—along with images of sneering white southerners during the desegregation of Little Rock High School, complicit whites riding near-empty buses during the Montgomery bus boycott, and white officers hosing down black children in Birmingham, Alabama—did not prepare me for what I encountered when I traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, last month.
I boarded a plane in Washington, D.C., to fly to Montgomery early on December 17. There I would conduct Sojourners Organizing training for Immigration Reform in partnership with the Greater Birmingham Ministries (GBM), a faith-based organization dedicated to building more just communities and systems in Alabama.
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