Earlier this week, I blogged some comments about a meeting of faith-based groups to discuss the new Alabama Anti-immigrant Law. A Huntsville Times article reported the following:

So a youth pastor pulls the church van up, opens the door, and children pile on. Some of them are immigrants without papers, though he doesn’t know that and doesn’t attempt to find out.

Should that youth pastor be arrested and the church van impounded under the new state immigration law that goes into effect Sept. 1?

No, state Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, answered on Friday.

“Read the law,” Holtzclaw said. “It says ‘knowingly.’

Senator Holtzclaw, as reported here, is clearly responding to hypotheticals about transporting immigrants without papers. He even addresses a specific word used within the the section dealing with transporting “unauthorized aliens.” In response to his reported retort, I detailed, by examination of the statute, how the word “knowingly” is defined much more broadly than the Senator implies. I additionally pointed out that even, using his narrow definition, these ministers and workers could still be exposed to prosecution under the law.

Sen. Holzclaw now claims that I wrote my piece out of ignorance and ill will to “stir up controversy.” He claims he was actually responding to an assertion by a Methodist Church leader about illegal stops by law enforcement officers.

So – for the casual reader of my blog (and mooncat and Mr. Varner…just in case you are reading) when the Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church (of which my church belongs) endorses a letter that incorrectly presents the law such as the following excerpt – Gives police the ability to stop anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” may be here illegally – I knew we had problems. By the way, there were several inconsistencies in the letter I could cite.

I can only assume church leadership had not read the law, hence my comments – read the law.  I know church leadership wouldn’t want to incorrectly present the law, right?

Section 12 (a) states, Upon any lawful stop, detention, or arrest made…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States…yup, that clearly sounds like giving police the ability to stop anyone they have a reasonable suspicion about.

So, when the good Senator advised the crowd to “[r]ead the law, [i]t says ‘knowingly,” he was referring illegal stops?

I don’t think so. First, his response was quite specific; he referred to actual language of the bill.  Section 12 (illegal stops) does not use the word “knowingly;”  however, the section criminalizing transportation of illegal immigrants does use that word. At the meeting, if he was just responding to someone that had claimed that law enforcement could stop anyone with just reasonable suspicion, his answer “read the law, its say knowingly” would make no sense.

Second, contextually, the reporter details the questions being asked, to which the Senator answered “No; they were specifically about transportation of undocumented immigrants.

Did the reporter completely misquote the Senator? Or did the article attribute to the Senator a response out of context? If not, the Senator is  engaging in chicanery with his recount of events now.

Regardless, I stand by my opinion of the law,  its probable interpretation by courts of law, and the consequences for many.

The Senator continues his chastisement of me and the “liberal left:”

Words have meaning and we need to read all of them in the law. We can agree to disagree but let’s start with the facts. It’s not really that hard.

I agree; words do have meaning, especially when they are defined in the statute. I mere demonstrated how the Senator’s use of a word of the statute did not comport with how the Legislature defined that word.

Finally, on a different note, I will be very glad when politicians stop reverting to ad hominem attacks, empty sloganeering, and lazy labeling like “right/left” or “liberal/conservative.” Such arguments contribute nothing to the debate.  Senator Holtzclaw tries to discredit me and other the opponents of the legislation by lumping all into the “liberal left.” Unless Senator Holtzclaw now defines liberal to include the Alabama County Commission Association, the Cato Institute, the American Family Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, US Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Baptist Convention, he should not presume to label the bill’s critics as “liberal.” To quote the Senator, “it’s not really that hard.”

(By the way, I agree with the Senator that the Bishop erred in his letter. The Bishop wrote imprecisely; the statute does not give police the express ability to stop anyone they have a “reasonable suspicion” may be here illegally. However, it does not disable law enforcement from making practically pretextual stops i.e. “the use of some minor offense, typically a traffic violation, as a tool for obtaining evidence or statements relating to a greater offense for which the police lack the required probable cause or reasonable suspicion otherwise to obtain.” Scarborough vs. State of Alabama, 621 So.2d 996.  So while the Bishop was wrong in a technical sense, he will likely be correct as it is applied.)