Alabama’s ‘Incredible’ Immigration Law

Alabama’s new immigration law is reportedly the toughest in the nation. The law, HB 56, grants police license to question and arrest crime suspects about their immigration status, and requires renters, car buyers, and those connecting public utilities to verify their legal status, CNN reported.

If the goal is to scare undocumented workers out of Alabama, as critics contend, it’s working when it comes to farm workers and school aged children, some say.

“Incredible” is how National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Rev. Samuel Rodriguez described the law in an interview with CNN. “It is a repeat of the chapter lived by African Americans, but now the African Americans are Latinos and immigrants,” said Rodriguez.

A Voice Crying in the Evangelical Wilderness

Although Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and United Methodist churches filed suit to block the law, Rodriguez and other Latino evangelical leaders told CNN that their own voices are missing from the debate. But I know from personal experience that his isn’t one of them.

I interviewed Rodriguez for a 2006 Christianity Today article about how Southern California churches were dealing with the undocumented immigrants in their midst. He said then that protecting our borders is important, but so is Leviticus 19:34, which instructs us to treat the “alien” living among us the same as the native-born, because the people of God were once aliens in Egypt.

Rodriguez has been trying at least since 2005 to convince his white evangelical brethren to stand up for these principles.

“I would like to see the white evangelical church make some clear-cut statements that would resonate with the Leviticus 19 principle alongside with what we are stating: Let’s protect our borders; there is a legitimate border issue. . . . Nonetheless, we need to work at creating programs within our churches that will facilitate the expeditious acquisition of documents, residency, and citizenry requirements for these Hispanic immigrants,” he said.

Minutemen Founder Reconsiders Racism

A key activist in the opposition movement in 2006 was Jim Gilchrist, founder of the controversial border protection group, The Minutemen Project. I met Gilchrist at a meeting of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, where he was a featured guest.

When I interviewed him, he said he hoped churches weren’t ministering to undocumented immigrants “at all,” and amidst the propaganda and conspiracy theorizing at the meeting, one audience member described unauthorized Mexicans as “cockroachs.” If I recall correctly, no one, including Gilchrist, objected.

Gilchrist has apparently had a change of heart. In an Atlantic interview with Conor Friedersdorf, Gilchrist said that after years of infighting in the movement he founded, he realizes that a small percentage of it is “nothing but a bunch of skinheads.”

“From the far right, you get those who were attracted to my movement because they were outright, incurable racists. It’s white power fanatics. But they’re no different than the black power fanatics or the brown berets. Every race, color and creed seems to have their five percent of incurable fascists that are just looking for a place to hide. Or a place to infiltrate and take over,” said Gilchrist.

Gilchrist can’t be convinced that human beings will ever see each other as equals, he said. “There is going to be bias and we need to have those laws to protect us from each other,” he concluded.

What do you think?

Are undocumented immigrants and Latinos the “new African Americans” or does racism know no color as Gilchrist now contends?

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