The Alabama Legislature opened its session on March 1 on a note of humility and compassion. In the Senate, a Christian pastor asked God to grant members “wisdom and discernment” to do what is right. “Not what’s right in their own eyes,” he said, “but what’s right according to your word.” Soon after, both houses passed, and the governor signed, the country’s cruelest, most unforgiving immigration law.
New York Times Editorial, August 29, 2011
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 provided that any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. Enactment and enforcement of the law was one of the waypoints on the path to the Civil War. Among other effect, the law brought home to anti-slavery Northerners the reality that their police, judges and justice systems would be used to enforce slavery.
Alabama has enacted an anti-immigrant law that has a striking resemblance to the Fugitive Slave Act, complete with jail sentences and fines for persons who “knowingly” show any compassion for an illegal immigrant. If the compassion involves 30 illegal immigrants, then the crime is a felony. Let’s imagine a soup kitchen feeding the hungry, who on one day feed 30 Latin Americans who can’t approve their residency. Will the volunteers be charged with a felony? It’s a crime to offer education to those children who can’t prove they are in America lawfully. Will teacher’s be sent to prison? And how in the world will this law be enforced without indulging in the most egregious kind of racial stereotyping? There are so many things wrong with the law that it’s difficult to describe it, except to say it is a modern-day Fugitive Slave Act.
Four Alabama bishops have filed a lawsuit challenging the law. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit challenging the law. Half a dozen other groups have brought challenges to all or part of the law. As you might expect, farmers in Alabama are deeply upset by a law which will very seriously affect harvesting crops.
The Alabama law as to become effective September 1, but U.S. District Court Judge Sharon L. Blackburn has barred enforcement of the law until a final ruling on its constitutionality.
But it’s much simpler for WC. The question is whether, as Alabama Republicans say, illegal immigration is such a serious problem that we need to invoke the specter of the Fugitive Slave Act. WC thinks not.