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Response from Kevin James

Discussion Question: Does A Immigration Enforcement Law Make It A Crime To Follow God’s Command To Be Good Samaritans?

Earlier this summer the state of Alabama enacted a new immigration enforcement law considered the toughest in the nation. Opposition has been vast and vocal, and legal challenges have flowed in from the ACLU, the Justice Department, and now four local religious leaders.

An Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop and bishop, all based in Alabama, sued on the basis that the new statute violated their right to free exercise of religion, arguing that it would “make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans.”

The law makes it a crime to transport, harbor or rent property to people who are known to be in the country illegally, and it renders any contracts with illegal immigrants null. To some church leaders — who say they will not be able to give people rides, invite them to worship services or perform marriages and baptisms — the law essentially criminalizes basic parts of Christian ministry.

Does this new law violate Alabama citizens’ religious freedom? Why or why not?

It seems ironic to have a nation established by immigrants to be a war with immigration. Yet, America is in such a tussle. Since 9/11 and the War on Terror America has been digging deeper in the trenches over security of our borders, especially the southern boundary with Mexico. Not only is it over fear of stealth terrorists entering the country that the boarder battles rage, but over protection of American jobs during an especially bad economy.

Arizona was the first state to take the immigration conflict to stricter enforcement. Arizona’s law was signed into effect in April of 2010. It went beyond the restrictions of the current Federal law and has been cited as promoting racial profiling. The law allowed Arizona law enforcement to demand proper residency papers during lawful stops, detentions or arrests. The legality of Arizona’s law is now tied up in Federal Court as it seeks to sort out the constitutionality of it.

Arizona’s law in its battle of the boarder inspired two other states this year to do the same: Georgia and Alabama. Both Georgia and Alabama laws had in them aspects that concerned religious groups and other social aid organizations. These concerns centered on the aiding and abetting illegal’s that could result in stiff penalties for those rendering the assistance. Both laws have successfully been tied up in the courts over those very provisions. We now await determination in both.

It is ever a dangerous thing for governments to draft and pass legislation that renders any social service illegal to some select minority. Humanity, legally in the country or not, demands a respectful and dignified treatment of their very real creature needs. A legal document should not bar humanitarian aid to those in need of it. This not only violates freedom of expression in religion in this country, but it creates a state of police action that is un-American at its core. “All men are created equal,” says the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution was written with that axiom in mind. To pass laws that punish individual rights and dignity as human beings is characteristic of dictatorships, not liberal democracy.

But while the courts consider the immigration laws of Arizona, Georgia and Alabama the effect of “deportation” is being felt as tens of thousands of immigrants have fled all three states, sometime emptying entire church congregations and leaving agricultural aspects of our economy in paralysis. America, a nation built on immigration, is in danger of losing that which has made her great: the power of personal progress that contributes to the freedom and fairness that makes her that glorious “city on the hill.”

Photo of Kevin James

Author: Kevin James

Associate Director of Public Affairs & Religious Liberty for the Southern Union of Seventh-day Adventists

Mr James's constituency encompasses Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  His primary responsibility is to provide assistance to church members who seek Sabbath accommodation in the workplace, and in that function has led numerous individuals through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claims process. Mr. James is an ordained minister, and prior to his work with the Southern Union, served as local church pastor for over 20 years.

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