The Fugitive Slave Act Lives

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.


4 thoughts on “The Fugitive Slave Act Lives

  1. Greetings WC

    Now, this one is a tough one for me. I am a libertarian at heart, but I have a heart. So I am far more compassionate than my Rand Paul brethren. Although that’s a pretty low bar…..

    A any rate, You do realize that illegal immigrants are exactly that. Illegal, and therefore harboring any criminal is justifiably a criminal act?

    Now, I really don’t have an issue with “illegals” per sey. And I might even go so far as to support an open border policy. My problem is that no one (illegal or legal – whatever that means) should receive any benefit which they did not pay for. That is, of course, a different topic. but if some states want to enact punitive and utterly rediculous penalties for mere acts of compassion, then, well, there is a special place in hell reserved for them. But the legality of it, on it’s face, may be defendable.


    • Mrderik, there’s no part of “illegal” in “illegal immigrant” that WC doesn’t understand. But then it was “illegal” to harbor a slave under the Fugitive Slave Act, too.

      As for states imposing penalties, the U.S. Constitution is pretty unambiguous; Article I, Section 8 gives those powers to the federal government. Not the states.

      The economy of Alabama – along with a lot of other states – is highly dependent upon the labor of illegal immigrants, particularly when serving as farm workers. Our insane – I use the word deliberately – schizophrenia about illegal immigrants has seriously distorted our policies and debate on our policies. Resulting in this Fugitive Slave Act for aliens. It’s sick.

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