Court ruling on Ala. immigration law could protect religious ministry

Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi
Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi


A federal judge approved key parts of a new Alabama law targeting illegal immigrants, but also temporarily blocked some measures. The blocked provisions include one that religious leaders said would affect their ministry and pastoral care to the undocumented.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn on Sept. 28 said the U.S. Constitution allowed Alabama’s new requirements to report the immigration status of juvenile students in public schools and requirements that police verify the immigration status of those they suspect to be in the country illegally.
She temporarily blocked measures which made it a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work and criminalized the transport or harboring of an illegal immigrant, the Associated Press reports. She also temporarily blocked a provision to allow discrimination lawsuits against companies that dismiss legal workers while hiring illegal immigrants and a provision to forbid business from taking tax deductions for wages paid to workers in the country illegally.

The measures will be blocked until the judge issues a final ruling.

Both supporters and critics say the Alabama law is the nation’s toughest.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the state law encroaches on the federal government’s duty to enforce basic immigration law. Other opponents argued that it violated basic rights to free speech and travel. Its provision on verifying the citizenship of public school students could decrease enrollment and increase immigrants’ fears, critics say.

Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi of Mobile has joined several Protestant denominations in opposition to the law. They said it threatens the Catholic Church’s ministry to undocumented immigrants and makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize undocumented immigrants, hear their confessions or preach the Gospel to them.

In an Aug. 1 letter to his diocese’s Catholics, Archbishop Rodi said the law makes it illegal to encourage undocumented immigrants to come to Mass or to give them a ride to Mass. He predicted its provisions would affect St. Vincent de Paul chapters and Catholic social services, criminalizing those who give a disabled person a ride to the doctor or give emergency food, clothing or financial assistance.

“This law,” the archbishop said, “attacks our very understanding of what it means to be a Christian.”

Speaking on behalf of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles backed Archbishop Rodi. He said the Catholic Church’s mandate is to provide for “the pastoral and social care of all God’s children.”

“Government should not infringe upon that duty, as America’s founding fathers made clear in the U.S. Constitution,” he said on Sept. 8.

Over the past decade, Alabama’s Hispanic population has grown by 145 percent.

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