Churches Lose Fight over Alabama Immigration Law

Article excerpt

A federal judge jolted the national immigration debate by approving most parts of Alabama's aggressive immigration law which some religious leaders have called the "meanest" in the nation.

In a ruling September 28 that was hailed by many state officials, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn refused to block much of Alabama's far-reaching immigration law from going into effect.

Blackburn's decision came after three separate challenges were fried by the U.S. Department of Justice; Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist bishops; and a coalition of civil rights groups, unions and individuals who said they would be harmed by the law. The Justice Department argued that immigration law enforcement rests with the federal government and that states could not set up their own systems.

The U.S. judge disagreed, saying Alabama's efforts mirrored the federal government's or were complementary.

"Today is a dark day for Alabama," said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. "This decision not only places Alabama on the wrong side of history but also demonstrates that the rights and freedoms so fundamental to our nation and its history can be manipulated by hate and political agendas--at least for a time."

United Methodist Bishop William Willimon, who had crusaded against the law, continues to oppose it but said it was "good news" that Blackburn struck down a provision that made it illegal to harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant. Willimon and other religious leaders said the provision would have hampered churches' ability to minister to all, regardless of immigration status. …