I wrote this piece for the Samford Crimson last week.
Last week, the immigration law known as HB56 went into effect. While some provisions had been blocked by the courts, critical portions remain. Judge Sharon Blackburn upheld those parts of the law that require (not allow, require) schools to check students’ immigration status. HB56 also requires (again, not allows, but requires) police to assess the citizenship of anyone they stop, arrest, or detain. The law provides police with the authority to arrest anyone whom they suspect might be an illegal immigrant. Some portions of the law have been temporarily block, namely those that make it a crime to provide transport or shelter for an illegal immigrant or for an illegal immigrant to seek or perform work.
Frankly, the whole situation has been utterly shameful. The law itself represents the worst of our political system. It remains purely political posturing, not an attempt to solve a problem. Republicans in Alabama promised immigration reform when they took the supermajority of the state legislature in 2010, and this law is what they provided. State Senator Scott Beason, one of the drafters of the legislation, promised that they would “empty the clip and do what has to be done.” This law is what that sort of disturbingly violent metaphor looks like in practice. However, there is no justifiable reason for such measures to be taken.
It hurts the economy. Dr. Keivan Deravi, an economics professor from Auburn’s Montgomery campus, remarked that the law “wasn’t supported by facts and wasn’t based on real economic theories and research.” Agricultural businesses and farmers proved him right when they began approaching lawmakers in the past few days. They explained that they have fields full of rotting crops because they no longer have labor to harvest them. In addition, any revenue gained from sales taxes on this population is gone as many illegal immigrants fled the state this weekend and this week. Furthermore — libertarian friends, listen up — the law requires businesses to invest in the E-verify system which requires thousands of dollars on their part annually. It would be useful if Alabama consulted economic professors and experts before writing up their own hare-brained legislation.
It hurts law enforcement. Training for this law requires hours of police officers’ time and excessive amounts of funding and resources. Most Alabama counties do not have these sorts of funds to spare. I think of Jefferson County’s continued financial woes as it plunges deeper into increasingly absurd amounts of debt. The law also opens the door for racial profiling within law enforcement. This same criticism was leveled at Arizona’s SB1070 immigration law, which many have called mild compared to Alabama’s. Consider too the prison system in Alabama. This law will put a heavy burden on already over-crowded jails, further straining for what passes as a prison system in Alabama.
It hurts our education systems. Hundreds of students have already disappeared from county public school systems across the state. In Montgomery County alone, the Associated Press reported that 200 students disappeared the morning the law went into effect. A sudden drop in Hispanic attendance rates across the state is alarming, to say the least. How do you think that will affect that community? The law effectively marginalizes a minority group based on race. Sound familiar, Alabama? While some superintendants claim that the process will just be used to gather data, the law effectively “uses fear to deter Alabama’s Hispanic population from education,” as one columnist from Arizona put it on Sunday.
If those are not enough reasons for you regardless of your political ideology or otherwise, consider this: it is morally reprehensible and dangerous. If those currently blocked portions of the law come into effect in the days to come, kindness and charity toward a minority group will be criminalized. Under what moral or ethical system is it considered unjust to provide such basic needs as transportation and shelter? I would encourage all Alabamians to consult the data and see the undeniably negative effects of the law and to further consult their consciences to see if that is really how they would like to treat their neighbors.
18 September 2011 // All Nations Church // Huntsville, AL
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out at nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The Gospel according to Matthew; Chapter 20, verses 1-16
When we come to this passage, we think we already have an idea of what it is saying. When we come to it, we are already on God’s side. We already assume the landowner is God — and that means he has to be right, doesn’t it? We have heard Jesus teach so many times through the Gospels that we automatically assume we understand what the parables have to say. When we read, we automatically side with God.
But that’s not how the first hearers of this parable would have heard it. They didn’t know what was coming in advance. Matthew concludes the parable with “So the last will be first, and the first will be last,” but Jesus’ audience didn’t know that. We think we understand. We think that because we live on this side of history, on this side of the Cross, that we understand exactly what grace is. We think we understand what grace means.
But we don’t.