In response to an inquiry from GOP Senator Del Marsh, Legislative Reference Service Director Jerry Bassett issued an opinion of HB56, the Alabama Anti-Immigration Law. The independent service confirms that law exposes churches to criminal prosecution, exactly what has been said time and time and time and time and time and time and time and time again:
“A church’s charitable activity would most likely run afoul of the act when transportation or shelter is provided to unlawfully present persons if these actions are deemed to be unlawful transporting or harboring.”
The letter notes a key element of the law: The person being prosecuted must have knowledge of the immigrant’s illegal status or recklessly disregards it. If churches knowingly and recklessly assist illegal immigrants, they could face sanctions, the letter warns.
“If a church engages in a program that offers shelter primarily directed toward immigrant groups, and it is common knowledge in the community that this group is comprised of unlawfully present aliens,” the letter reads, “a court could conclude that the church ‘recklessly disregarded’ that the benefits provided were to unlawfully present aliens.”
A few points of comment:
- Even with this corroborating opinion, HB56 may not violate the Supreme Court’s precedents on the First Amendment. This is critically important when the political fall-out from the federal court’s decision is revealed. I still think the Alabama State Constitution provides better protection; the ministers’ suit should be brought in an Alabama state court as well.
- And secondly, as defined in the statute, “knowingly” is not limited to actual knowledge but is much broader than normal use. “Knowledge” can be evidenced by “attendant circumstances” which might give a person reason to believe that a person is illegal (i.e. the person does not speak English; or, if a child, his parents do not speak English; or the person does not have a driver’s license).
Mikey Hammon and Scott Beason do not care about the laws impact on churches: this “unintended consequence.” They purposely excluded the church exemptions because they believe churches are actually “importing” illegals into the state “because they believe that is a good thing.” As shown by the article:
The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said the law is not intended to interfere with the practice of religion, and he thinks some of the concerns are “exaggerated.”
“I’m very confident if we do see unintended consequences, we will address those,” Hammon said. “But we will not make the law weaker, and we will not allow Alabama to be a sanctuary state.”
In their minds, providing an exception for churches is making the law “weak.” Remember, these two intentionally and specifically stripped the Senate bill of exceptions and exemptions for churches!