Church Leaders in Alabama and Georgia Lead Fight Against Harsh Anti-Illegal Immigration Legislation

Christians in Alabama and Georgia are stepping forward to defend undocumented immigrants against harsh new laws aimed against them. The new Alabama law—widely considered the nation’s most restrictive state law against illegal immigration—prohibits, among other provisions, providing transportation to illegal immigrants, requires schools to check the immigration status of students and report their findings to the state, and allows police to check the immigration status of anyone during a routine traffic stop or other interaction, and jail without bail those lacking proper documentation.

Leaders of the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church all have criticized the law as running counter to biblical teachings about caring for neighbors, helping visitors and showing hospitality to strangers.

Church leaders in Georgia actively opposed the recent passage of a similar law there, and a federal judge has blocked key provisions of the act.

In Birmingham, a crowd of 2,000 marched in protest against the law, and 100 United Methodist ministers signed an open letter to the governor criticizing the law.

Christians compare biblical instructions to welcome strangers and love others with the law’s restrictions against knowingly assisting undocumented immigrants by helping them secure a place to live, a job, health care other than for emergencies and even a ride to the store.

A first-hand witness of that harshest of restriction against the free movement of individuals, the Iron Curtain, Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Laborem exercens, “Man has the right to leave his native land … in order to seek better conditions of life in another country.”

Well-meaning Americans tend to frame their objection to illegal immigration in terms of its illegality. What they either do not know or cannot comprehend is that it is “illegal” because of a change in law and quotas—the rules under which our own forebears immigrated no longer exist.

Americans’ demand for immigrant labor falls mostly into two distinct groups: unskilled labor: agricultural, etc.; and highly-skilled: primarily hi-tech skills this country fails to produce in sufficient numbers due to our abysmal education system. While the H-1B visa covering specialty occupations helps provide a legal supply of the latter, the annual quota for these high-skill-level visas has in recent years been completely filled on the first day they are made available each year.

For unskilled labor, there is no such visa quota available, meaning that the vast majority of those with nothing to offer but a willingness to work hard have no legal means available to them to do so in America.

As detailed in the Independent Institute’s Open Letter on Immigration, immigrants come to America for its promise of freedom and opportunity—attributes we used to celebrate. Immigrants as a group are if anything arguably more representative of the so-called American ethic than our native-born: religious, family-oriented, and desiring to improve the lot of themselves and especially their children. As Independent Institute Senior Fellow Ben Powell points out:

The post-1965 immigrant wave IS different than prior immigration waves. It is partly distorted by government policy that prevents Europeans and others from coming, but it’s also different, NOT because the immigrants are fundamentally different, but because OUR culture is different than before.

Before, immigrants assimilated into a culture of hard work and self-reliance. Those who failed here often had to go home. Few go home today because of failure. Instead, they are taught to assimilate into a system of government reliance where failure and laziness are not punished. The post-1965 immigration wave is the first that has come once we had a welfare state in place. Unfortunately, that welfare state not only makes them less productive, it also teaches them to undermine our old culture that made America successful.

It’s wonderful to see church leaders stand up for what’s morally right in a war against immigrants for whom legal entry is all but impossible. Instead of enacting laws that criminalize the desire for a better life, breaking up families and driving illegal immigrants into the black market where they are more likely to be victimized and exploited, concerned Americans should be fighting the real cause of the deterioration of our society and economy: government entitlement programs that disincent the formation of families, sap human dignity, and undermine self-reliance.

For further on this issue, Independent Institute Research Director Alex Tabarrok explores Economic and Moral Factors in Favor of Open Immigration in depth in this talk, and Senior Fellow Benjamin Powell provides his video response to the Top 3 Myths About Immigration, here.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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