Church Leaders Fight Immigration Laws in Alabama

Leaders from the Episcopal, Catholic, and Methodist communities in Alabama sent a letter to Gov. Robert Bentley Monday, urging him to repeal the controversial immigration law known as HB 56.

The letter was signed by Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile, Bishop Baker of Birmingham, Bishop William Willimon, Bishop Henry Parsley, Cletus Meagher, Abott of the Benedictine Society of Alabama and Janet Flemming, Prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman. In the letter, they ask the governor to consider revisions of what they call an unjust and unfair law.

Meagher says the motivation for sending the letter is directly related to Christian concern for the dignity and welfare of people who are hurt by the law, according to The Cullman Times.

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The letter also states, “Alabama does not need to return to a time when laws were used to vent hate for others and justify mistreating people.”

In a statement, Janet Flemming said that Bentley is a man of faith and he is being called to right his wrongs.

“We have been opposed to this law from day one, particularly as it affects our ability to minister to all of God’s children, whether documented or not,” Flemming said in the statement.

She also stated that the immigration law is reminiscent of the civil rights struggle in Alabama.

However, Bentley won’t repeal the state’s immigration law despite the letter, according to The Birmingham News. In an email written by Bentley’s press secretary, he admits the law may need some improvements, but those shortcomings don’t merit repealing it.

Bentley, along with Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn and Republican Senate President Pro Tem del Marsh of Annison, said earlier this month that revisions would be made to the law, but rejected its repeal, according to The Montgomery Advertiser.

 A representative for Bentley said he believes Alabama needs an effective illegal immigration law because the federal government has failed its duties.

The letter to Bentley is more passive approach taken by the church leaders to overturn the law. The leaders previously sued in federal court to overturn the law. There have been protests, marches and rallies against the ruling.

The bishops are disturbed with Section 13 of the law, which they want to block. Section 13 makes it a crime to knowingly “conceal, harbor or shield” an undocumented immigrant.

Critics argue that the language in this law makes it illegal to have religious gatherings where undocumented immigrants are present. They worry that this could lead to the prosecution of faith-based services aimed at undocumented immigrants.

Other provisions in protest include one that would require immigrants to carry documentation, another that would prevent undocumented immigrants from attending post-secondary institutions, and a rule that bans state and local agencies from doing business with undocumented workers.

Augusta Dowd, the attorney for the religious leaders, remembers when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a famous letter from jail in 1963. In the letter he criticized white church leaders for sitting on the sidelines during the Civil Rights movement.

“These church leaders today will not be the recipient of such a letter,” Dowd said.

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