In June of 2011, Alabama passed HB 56, a law that both supporters and opponents called the toughest immigration law in the country. Law sponsor Micky Hammond stated that the law was designed to make life unlivable for undocumented immigrants so that they will “self deport.” Among other things, the law required police to detain anyone they suspected of being an undocumented immigrant, prohibited undocumented immigrants from attending any public post-secondary educational institution, required families to show proof of citizenship to enroll in public school, made it a crime to transport or shelter undocumented immigrants, made it illegal for undocumented immigrants to apply for a job, rendered all contracts with undocumented immigrants unenforceable, and required all immigrants to carry their immigration paper work with them at all times.
The United Methodist Church along with other faith communities, law enforcement officials, teachers, business owners, civil rights advocates, and many others stood together to declare that this law was unjust and unconstitutional. More than 150 United Methodist clergy from our conference signed an open letter sent to our elected officials and the press saying that this law was completely incompatible with our Christian principles. Bishop Willimon along with the Episcopal and Catholic bishops filed one of many lawsuits against the state.
Yesterday, the state of Alabama settled with plaintiffs effectively gutting the immigration law. Basically all of the provisions that we fought against have been permanently blocked. I am proud of the work United Methodist clergy and laity did opposing this law, and I am happy that the injustices of this law will never be implemented in Alabama again. However, the fact that this law is now, for all practical purposes, gutted, nothing can undo the pain caused by HB 56 these last two years. The first week the law took effect, hundreds of Hispanic children stayed home from school out of fear. Other immigrant families chose to “self-deport.” The state once again was in the news (both nationally and internationally) as one of the most racist places in America. And at a time when Alabama is experiencing budget cuts, the state must now pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees totaling around $350,000. For two years, this law has only caused hurt – hurt to Alabama’s image, hurt to Alabama’s finances, and most importantly, hurt to Alabama’s immigrant families.
Alabama’s Immigration law represented our worst nature. It was passed on the understanding that our solutions can be solved by division and scapegoating. It was passed on the understanding that there is “us” and that there is “them.” Politicians relied on our fear of the “other” promising that getting tough on illegal immigration would solve our economic problems rather than offering us real solutions. In short, this law was sinful.
The gospel, though, gives us another understanding. The gospel teaches us that our family is not those who are related to us or even those who share a common ethnicity or national origin. Rather, our family is every single person alive. What’s good for one is good for all. Unity rather than division is how to build a better Alabama. Too many times we have let racism and xenophobia blind us to the all encompassing love of God – a love that calls us to extend that same to love to everyone – citizen and foreigner alike. May we never forget how big God’s family is again.
Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons
The Advocacy for Social Justice Blog is produced by the North Alabama Conference Advocacy for Social Justice Team to help people think about justice issues through the lens of faith. It is intended to be a place where United Methodists can listen and learn from each other with mutual respect and understanding. (For the purpose of this blog see the the post “The work of justice is the work of the church”.) Please join the conversation by adding your comment below. If you have an idea for a blog topic or would like to make a submission to the Advocacy for Social Justice Blog please contact the Team Convenor Rev. R.G. Wilson-Lyons at email@example.com.