Alabama Creating a Religious Jim Crow

On February 9th, same sex marriage became the law in Alabama. The grandstanding by Chief Justice Moore was a classic Governor Wallace move.  Probate judges refused to honor the federal court ruling. Marriages performed in other states are still not recognized in Alabama. Rev. Paul Hard’s case to have his marriage recognized on his partner’s death certificate continues.

Yesterday, Representative Hill fast-tracked a bill, using the infamous HB 56 nomenclature, that would legalize discrimination against couples whose relationships do not line up with judges religious convictions.  It would legalize discrimination against couples whose relationships are not recognized by religiously owned institutions.  If this bill is passed we could very well be seeing signs at court houses that say: “Straights only.” “Gays not welcomed” “No marriage licenses to divorcees will be issued.”  This bill would allow a judge to discriminate against a person  of a Non-Christian faith if the judge believes his faith is the one and only true faith. It allows the judge to stand in judgement over the Christian faiths that have welcomed and honor sexual and gender diversities as part of God’s universal love and will.  It would allow a religiously owned hospital to deny the partner, legally married, from seeing their spouse or from any consultation to the life and death situations the spouse may be facing.  Governor Bentley has already stated that he would not prosecute any judges that refuse to issue a marriage license to same sex couples, so this bill would essentially codify his intentions.

Imagine the torment already being experienced when a loved one is critically ill and the only hospital available will not allow the partner to see their loved one or to have any input into their medical care.  Imagine the exponential emotional trauma that this law will create for this family. This is what happened 50 years ago here under Jim Crow–it cost the lives of thousands who did not make it in time to a hospital that would treat a person of color.  Imagine a couple longing to experience the joys of parenthood being denied by the adoption agency purely on the basis of their same-sex marriage. Jim Crow is being resurrected again if this law is passed.  This time he wears the clerical garb of the inquisition. This is insulting and outrageous!

Read the bill as presented here.  The hearing is this afternoon at 1:30 in room 429.  A tiny room for a bill that will essentially codify a Religious Jim Crow in the State of Alabama.  We need to pack this room to over flowing to express outrage of this bill.

The original code that authorizes who may perform marriages in the state of Alabama is already Christian-centric.  It is already an offensive statute.  I have only included the language that refers to religious entities. It reads:

(a) Marriages may be solemnized by any licensed minister of the gospel in regular communion with the Christian church or society of which the minister is a member; …
(b) …Marriage may also be solemnized by the pastor of any religious society according to the rules ordained or custom established by such society.
(c) Quakers, Mennonites, or other religious societies. The people called Mennonites, Quakers, or any other Christian society having similar rules or regulations, may solemnize marriage according to their forms by consent of the parties, published and declared before the congregation assembled for public worship.

This wording is already offensive. It creates a hierarchy of religious status in the state with Christians as the supreme religion and places Quakers and Mennonites as second class Christians by spelling them out. I recognize that the attempt is to include religious societies that do not have ordained clergy but the wording here is clear, Christians as defined by the State is the state recognized faith.  It is presumed that people are of a particular Christian sect. Sections B and C are afterthoughts.  I suppose section b of the code is meant to include Unitarian Universalists, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Earth-Centered faiths, Jains, Hindus, etc. Instead it sends a clear message of Christian supremacy.

The better wording to be clearly inclusive of the diversity of faiths celebrated in Alabama would be a revision of section b and have b alone in regard to religious entities.  Marriage may be solemnized by any designated person, so designated by any religious society according to the rules ordained or custom established by such society. period.  Designated person would include the clerk of the Quaker society, it would include the Imam of the Mosque, it would include the Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, it would include the Rabbi of a synagogue, it would include lay-led congregations. It would include all faiths without giving preference of one faith over any other.

But the current wording with the legal discrimination amendment strengthens the stance that the Christian faith, defined in a fundamentalist fashion, is the only faith accepted and recognized by the State of Alabama.  That stance is prohibited by the Constitution of the United States.  And that stance creates a religious Jim Crow law in the state of Alabama.

As a minister of a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, I do not want the members of my congregation to face the discrimination that this bill legalizes.  I do not want the LGBT, Inter-racial couples, and divorced members of my congregation to experience the emotional trauma that this law will create for them.  My faith teaches me that all people are created equal and are endowed with unalienable rights, including the pursuit of happiness with a person that they love and cherish.  I thought this was a common belief among all of our religions.  Sadly, I have been mistaken.

 

Walking Toward Trouble

Almost four years ago on July 29 2010, I was in Arizona to protest and prevent the implementation of the nation’s harshest anti-immigration law.  I was asked to be there by colleague Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix.  She made a passionate plea to her colleagues in June of that year to help protect families that were being torn apart.  I went and while I ultimately did not choose to be one of those arrested, I fully committed myself to prevent what I believe with all my heart to be an inhumane treatment of immigrants in a nation that ironically gained its greatest strengths and gifts from immigrants during its 238 year history.

Within a year, Alabama, the state I currently call home, passed its omnibus bill HB 56 into law.  A law, that if the Supreme Court had not intervened would have prevented churches from providing services to immigrants as any support, including worship, that enabled immigrants to stay in the state would be illegal. I personally was told by the sponsor of this bill, that if I had undocumented worshipers in my congregation, I would be arrested along with them. I spoke out against that bill.  I helped organize interfaith rallies, supported the formation of a local Latino advocacy group, and was ultimately arrested at the State House in civil disobedience of this law. Most of the law was struck down in federal court as unconstitutional.  Alabama appealed but was denied a hearing, the decision was final.

In my community of Tuscaloosa, I am witnessing the undocumented becoming laissez-faire in their concerns about immigration rights.  Because HB 56 was gutted of its most heinous provisions, they no longer feel an immediate threat.  Life has returned pretty much to where it was before passage. Still precarious, but if they keep their heads down, keep their businesses on the down-low, they are able to continue unseen, and live their life relatively undisturbed.  The law is not rounding people up in random searches as feared, even ICE’s Secure Communities (S-COMM) which Tuscaloosa is a participant, is not seen as a threat to their families’ safety.  Yes, they hear of other communities in Alabama where families are being torn apart through deportation, but it isn’t happening to them or so they think, and therefore they have relaxed their own concerns about immigration rights.   Yes, they hear of neighbors being deported but it is an accepted, albeit defeated, reality of that’s just the way it is.

In the course of the last four years, Tuscaloosa has been the host to NDLON’s Undocubus, Nun’s on a Bus, and Fast4Families.  All trying to strengthen the base community to the realities that our immigration policy remains shattered and ineffective and is personally aimed at the Latino community that needs to be organized and strong.  Meanwhile our borders are increasingly militarized.  Life along the border is not the same experience  one has in the interior of the country. I remember the first time I came across a border patrol stop on the I-10 in Arizona entering California in 2005.  I thought I had left my country.  These were heavily armed officers who were simply standing in the highway stopping every car. Other check points are more sophisticated with pull offs that at a glance look like weigh stations but are border patrol stops.  But on this day, there was no official station, they were simply standing in the road with their guns, stopping every vehicle.  They were intimidating.  Their presence made my heart race with fear.  When I was in Nogales, a city divided by a 30 foot wall, the militarization was even more intense.  I heard stories of drones flying overhead spying on the residents below and I saw first hand what it must feel like in a war zone, not knowing if the next minute will bring ICE breaking down the door.  I do not know how to convince my undocumented friends here in Tuscaloosa that this is not the time for complacency but to re-new their efforts to organize.  How can I convince them that what is happening at the border is going to have consequences that affect their lives in deeply personal and profound ways–when these groups that they welcomed here have not been able to convince them? I suppose this is a rhetorical question.

I remain as committed as ever to help ensure that our country does the right thing regarding immigration. I take seriously the command  “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). Elsewhere it states, “you must love the foreigner” and “treat the foreigner as a native-born.”  It is core to my faith of loving our neighbor as ourselves.   At this point, immigration reform can only come after a full and complete repentance of our cold indifference to the plight of others.  We have a congress that has been wasting our tax dollars on their hatred of President Obama instead of working to find solutions to the very real problems that keep our nation from moving forward.  We need a new congress and a new re-working of how we are going to handle immigration without turning our nation into a militarized zone.

At our annual Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June, we passed an action of immediate witness which, like Rev. Frederick-Gray’s call above, invited Unitarian Universalists to come to Washington, DC, and participate in a faith summit that might include civil disobedience, July 30-August 2.   During the debate, Rev. Wendy Von Zirpolo, stated: [A]t the Ware Lecture, Sister Simone Campbell called upon us to walk toward trouble. When minor children are being warehoused and talked about as if they were things or animals, trouble. When people who are black and brown, citizen or not, are routinely detained at our borders for hours, the borders of their lives, communications, and bodies violated, trouble. When children live in fear of a knock on the door or the door being torn entirely from its hinges, meaning another parent taken, trouble.

I am going to DC.  I am going to walk toward trouble.  While my undocumented friends here in Tuscaloosa may not be able to walk toward trouble, I am using my privilege to do so on their behalf.  It is a form of intercessory prayer to walk toward trouble in order to prevent more trouble, more pain, more grief, more unbearable anguish of separation. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it redemptive suffering. I believe another word for it is love.  This is what abiding universal love calls us to do for one another.

I do not want my friends to live a life  resigned to living in the shadows in order to give their families a better opportunity.  I do not want the children refugees that are streaming across the border because their home countries are no longer safe for them to be met with fear and hatred.  Their arrival, by the way,  is the result of 50 years of US foreign policy decisions that trained their militias to commit violence against their own people. Policies that opened the door for US corporations to rape their land’s resources and force farmers off their lands.   We are the ones who are culpable for their arriving at our borders. We created this crisis with our own exceptionalist manner of interacting with our neighbors on the global scene.  So I will walk toward trouble to let my country know that this wrong needs to stop.  We can begin by stopping the deportations.

The president said he has a pen and a phone to intervene on immigration.  It is past time that he uses them.

 

11th Circuit Court Hearings on HB 56/HB 87

It had rained heavily and so the angels of mercy were kind as we encountered no additional rain as we left Northport at 3 AM CST to be at the court house in Atlanta for 8 AM EST.   I had been able to get in two hours of good sleep before setting out so I wondered how I would fare the drive and the day.

At the 56 Forsyth Street court house the majority of people waiting to sit in on the hearing appeared to be attorneys but in the line waiting to enter were familiar faces.  And across the street immigrants began to gather to carry signs, to march, and to show their outrage that our fair country would seek to bar them from living towards their full potential as human beings. Somos Tuskaloosa members who came with me to Atlanta joined the picket line to make their presence known.  I was grateful the Rev. Jan Tadeo of our Unitarian Universalist Gwinnett County congregation joined me inside.

There were three judges hearing this case: Judge Martin, Wilson, and Voorhees from North Carolina.   Voorhees for the most part remained stoic and silent in the procedures, only offering two or three questions or comments.  He was the hardest of the judges to read.

The disappointing news was the court decided to withhold their judgment until after the Supreme Court rules on the Arizona SB 1070 case.  Several of the sections being contested were similar to that case and they will defer to the Supreme Court case.  This is disappointing because there are other parts of AL HB 56 and GA HB 87 that are not in the SB 1070 statute and unless continued to be enjoined would cause continued harm and humanitarian crisis in our respective states. The judges heard the arguments pertaining GA’s HB 87 law first.

The judges wanted to know how GA HB 87 was different from the 1956 PA vs Nelson case which pertains to a sedition act the state of Pennsylvania passed. The courts ruled that Pennsylvania’s Sedition act over rode the Federal law and states cannot pass laws that do that. Judge Martin stated HB 87 seems to be doing the same thing.

The judges brought out that there are individuals that are without documentation but are allowed to be in this country.  Police are going to look at the plain language of this law and not accept a person who is allowed to be here but not legal.  The police are asked to make this determination of legal status and detention which is squarely placed in the role of federal officers. How does HB 87 compliment the Federal law and not usurp its authority in this matter?

At one point, Judge Wilson wondered if illegal population laws have morphed into a public safety concern and therefore states can regulate for the health and safety of the public; including penalizing people who assist undocumented aliens as part of that public safety concern.

The notion that controlling immigrant populations could be considered a public safety concern like controlling rat populations is a public safety concern sickens me, yet I realized this is indeed the point of view that Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona have taken.

It was the Alabama’s case, where the judges asked the harder questions.  HB 56 includes that undocumented persons are not to enter into any transaction within the state.  Where will the undocumented live, how will they access utilities such as water?  The penalties are harsh, the judges said.  What happens with the individual who is in violation of HB 56, criminalized for their presence within AL, charged and convicted with a felony, and jailed under this law; and then an immigration judge determines the person is free to remain in the country?  Where are they to live?  It is illegal for them to be in Alabama.  What if all 50 states were to pass similar laws?   What makes this law not an expulsion law of immigrants?

The attorneys tried to argue that the State Attorney General did not interpret the law in this manner.  Landlords would not be penalized if they rented without knowing the person’s status, and utilities would not be denied regardless of status.  The judges shot back that we can not elevate the Attorney General’s opinion regarding the law over the face of the law.  You can say the Attorney General said that but where does it say that in the statute regarding water?

Could an illegal alien get a more favorable treatment in Minnesota than in Alabama? Yes.  Is this therefore not a policy of expulsion?  The attorneys for the state said, No this is not the intent.  The judge shot back, I don’t see how this law operates in any other way.  [Rep. Hammon stated this law was to make life untenable in all arenas of life for undocumented immigrants forcing them to leave the state-in short a policy of expulsion.]

Again, if all 50 states had this provision where would an unlawful person live, who was determined to be allowed to remain in the country?  Does the federal government that is in negotiation with another country have the right to determine whether an undocumented person can remain in the country? Homeland Security as the determining voice in the statute would only be able to confirm if person was unlawfully present, not that the person is allowed to remain, that decision might be issued later by an immigration judge.  In the meantime, the person is sentenced and jailed in Alabama as a felon criminal.

The judges asked if the school registration requirement was anything more than a scare tactic.  They wondered how the birth status of a child determines if the parent is undocumented?  Isn’t there the fear that if children are declared undocumented they could then face deportation?  The judges did not state this plainly, but it seemed they were pointing to the 5th amendment regarding not participating in self-incrimination.

The state argued this was at most a classification edict to determine the number of immigrants. While the state could be required by the federal government to release this information to them, that is not the intent of this law.  If this information is sent to the federal government, the attorney general must be notified.  The child has the choice to not self declare their status and will be able to remain in school regardless of status. Judge Martin shot back, but if the student does not self-declare they are presumed to be undocumented so how does offering them a choice matter?

The attorneys arguing for this section to be struck stated that while all students are allowed to remain in school, it is what happens after the point of inquiry of status that also needs consideration.  It is the stigmatizing effect that results in removal of the student.  The attorney is referring to the increased ethnic bullying that is occurring in the schools by both teachers and students, regardless of the students’ status.

It is this stigmatizing and apparent societal permission to expressing racism that is occurring through out Alabama and Georgia as a result of these laws.  People who are casually speaking Spanish in public are being confronted with shouts of being illegal. Citizens who are brown are being accosted by strangers and angrily told to go back to Mexico.  People are feeling justified in their racism because this law exists. When laws justify racism then they are unjust laws that seek not to keep harmony within the community but rather seek to divide it.

A prayer for the Alabama Legislature

Tomorrow, Faith leaders from across the state will be holding a press conference in Montgomery on the steps of the State House and will be praying for the legislators as they debate HB 56, the bill passed last year that is projected to cost the state $11 Billion in economic loss, not to mention the hundreds of  millions of dollars combined in litigation costs and county, city, and state taxes. Each faith leader has been asked to deliver their prayers for the legislature as part of this event.

Here is the prayer I will be delivering to my legislators:

Holy One, who incarnated the world with love, your messenger stated the greatest leader among us was the one who served the poor, the weak, the infirmed, and the stranger.  We have strayed from that purpose and have sought instead to align ourselves with the privileged, the powerful, and the wealthy in the vain hopes that we might share in that privilege, that power, that wealth.  In this striving we have failed to serve the least of these who are most vulnerable; the children and elderly, the poor and the working poor, and the sojourner.  We have failed to see that what we do to the least of these we in turn do to ourselves and to all that is sacred. When we enact laws that tear apart families, we are tearing apart the sacred tapestry established from the beginning of life.  Such actions grieve the Spirit that weaves together the human family.  Help us to know that such actions result in pain and suffering in other seemingly unrelated arenas of our state.  Help us to know and feel that grief that cries out for redress are as the cries from the Hebrews who sojourned in Egypt.  The suffering cries out to the heavens for redress of their injustice.

Turn us away from our self serving actions.  Guide us back to being the servants of the people who are disenfranchised and made vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by an unequal system.  Teach us again the meaning of the Samaritan, the one disenfranchised and hated by society turned out to be the one who was incarnated by the Spirit of Love.  May we humble ourselves before the Sacred that lives within each of us.  May we seek to honor the holy within each of us by enacting laws that strengthen the human family by nurturing our resident’s potentials and receiving our resident’s gifts rather than castigating their presence among us.   In the Spirit of the Holy One who calls us to give voice to the voiceless, to lift up the downtrodden, and to offer hospitality to the sojourner, Amen.  Let it be so.

 

Rev. Fred L Hammond

Minster, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

The Game Changes

The Game Changes
17 July 2011 © Rev. Fred L Hammond
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
for the good or evil side.”

These words are from the poem entitled “The Present Crisis” by James Russell Lowell, a Unitarian from the 19th century.  He is writing against the war with Mexico of 1846 to 1848.  President Polk invades Mexico under the pretense of coming to Texas’ aid, considered by Mexico to be a rebellious province in part because the American immigrants in Texas violated Mexico’s laws banning slavery.  At the time all of the southwest was a part of Mexico, made up mostly of indigenous tribes and some Mexican settlers. The war was justified as being part of manifest destiny, the belief God had chosen the United States to occupy all of the North American Continent and to be the primary nation of influence in the hemisphere.

The United States has long had this erroneous belief that God has chosen us to be the vanguards of the world. Therefore when American businesses in Central and South America were being restricted by democratically elected governments, the CIA would go in and topple the government and place trained dictators who would allow American corporations free reign. Hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and killed by these CIA placed dictators. 100,000 in Guatemala, 63,000 in El Salvador, thousands in Nicaragua, thousands in Chile killed by CIA trained death squads.

Many of the governments in place with American backing are still torturing their own people.  Thousands of refugees from these countries have crossed borders and deserts to find sanctuary from these conditions.  They are refused asylum status in the US because to grant asylum to them would implicate the US’ awareness and complicity in these acts of violence.  They cannot go home because the American created conditions are still too horrendous—in some cases still life threatening—and so they stay underground hoping that their children will have a better life than they did.  And this multitude of America’s sins against our neighbors to the south remains unspoken because we are the chosen ones, you see, and just as in biblical Israel, all crimes against humanity are ordained as being god’s will.   As long as we deny our complicity in this then we can continue to claim being the unwarranted victim in this current immigration situation.

The unjust invasion of Mexico in Lowell’s time was justified as manifest destiny and the war crimes of the CIA in Central and South America are manifest destiny’s offspring. The consequences we are only now beginning to see but apparently do not understand.

“Once to every man and nation
comes the moment to decide
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
for the good or evil side.”

There are many who believe that immigrants flooding the US are the cause for America’s economic woes.  Rev. Jose Ballester, Unitarian Universalist Minister in New England, asks; “Why are they coming to the United States? Could it be that the United States is responsible for destroying the economic means of the immigrants? Did diverting the waters of the Colorado River for irrigation; green lawns and providing potable water to the growing populations in the Southwest and Southern California destroy the farmland in Mexico? Did the importation of surplus US corn to be sold in Mexico ruin the agriculture economy of Mexico? Did NAFTA permit US Corporations to set-up factories in Mexico that are filled with cheap labor and do those same factories turn the surrounding areas into toxic wastes? Are there drug cartels in Mexico that threaten the government, commit unspeakable crimes and cross the USA/Mexico border to commit crimes? Who is buying the drugs that fuel these cartels?”

I can’t remember the movie, perhaps it is a combination of films.  The young child, bullied by classmates, attempts to purchase lunch and sit in the cafeteria.  The first table with a seat is denied as being saved for someone else.  Then the next table is also saving the seat for someone else.  All the students at the tables respond the same way, can’t sit here, this is saved for someone else.  For who?  Anyone else but the child bullied.  Children can be so cruel. And the behavior is simply wrong of the children to reject the child so treated.

So what is happening with our immigrant neighbors?   They are no longer able to stay in their country, perhaps for political reasons, perhaps because the land has been ravaged by American corporations’ lack of environmental concern, perhaps because the CIA placed regime is torturing the indigenous people. So they come to the states and they are told can’t stay in Arizona, can’t stay in Georgia, can’t stay in Alabama; these jobs are saved for someone else.  Has anyone else applied for these jobs… well no… but you can’t have them cause their saved.

If we were so able to see how wrong it was for the bullied child to be treated so poorly by the other children, then how is it so difficult to see how wrong it is for us to treat our immigrant neighbors in the same way?

Alabama had a year in which to examine what was happening in Arizona and to decide whether to follow suit.  We had a year to also examine and to decide what our actions would be should an Arizona type law come to Alabama.  Well that year is over.  For the most part, those who acted in opposition did not do so fervently enough. I include myself in that accusation. We failed to organize the coalitions needed to prevent the passage of this bill. We did not speak up loud enough.

HB 56 was signed into law and it is set to go into effect September 1st.  The game has changed. We are no longer trying to prevent a law from being written; we are now forced to live with the law and its consequences until we can have it repealed. The work will be much harder than before.

I was asked by a colleague to list ten things as to why this law is immoral and should be opposed.

  1. This law will deport individuals who have only known the US as home.  These individuals were brought here as infants in the care of their parents.  Many do not have family there.
  2. This law will break families apart.  Forcing US born children to become wards of the state, while their parents are deported.  This is a dehumanizing act with dire consequences for the well being of the children.
  3. This law denies the basic right to shelter.  It criminalizes anyone who for humanitarian reasons offers shelter.  Landlords must check citizenship status before renting.
  4. This law infringes on the right to practice ones religion.  Congregations that allow undocumented immigrants to become members and attend their services would be criminalized for harboring.
  5. Congregations would not be allowed to transport members (who might be undocumented)  in their vehicles because this would be considered human trafficking and would be subject to felony charges.
  6. Children and parents would be required to show proof of citizenship before registering for school. All children under the age of 18 have the right to an education according to federal statute regardless of legal status.  But consider that not having documentation of citizenship might discourage families to have their children attend school and then the question of what will they be doing during school time. Not attending school might lead to criminal mischief as it did in the 1800’s when public education was not mandatory.
  7. Victims of Domestic violence who are also undocumented would be subject to arrest and deportation should they seek police intervention in a domestic dispute.  This is the ‘punish the victim’ scenario.  This scenario becomes even more exaggerated if the spouse is an American citizen.
  8. Domestic workers can be criminalized for harboring and transporting domestic violence victims who are undocumented.
  9. All major religions have teachings and stories that command their followers to welcome the foreigner and offer hospitality.
  10. This law justifies ones racism, bigotry, and hatred under the rubrics of obeying the law.

The work to repeal will be much harder than the work to prevent the law from being passed.  There will be consequences in disobeying this unjust law.  There will be consequences in offering assistance to the immigrants in our community.

At General Assembly our association re-affirmed its desire to host a Justice General Assembly in Phoenix, AZ in 2012.   This was not arrived at lightly.  We were there a year ago when the law went into effect and prevented Sheriff Arpaio from conducting his raids on that day.  80 people were arrested for civil disobedience, 24 of them Unitarian Universalists, many of those were ministers.  We went because we were invited by the people who were being impacted by this law.

We went because there are people being detained in inhumane tents where the temperature has reached 140 degrees in the hot Arizona sun.  Detained because they had a broken tail light on their vehicle and they might be undocumented. Until their legal status can be verified they are held in these inhumane settings. A broken tail light.

We went because there are families that are being torn apart. Mothers who go out to do the days shopping are arrested without being able to notify their families of their whereabouts.

We went because people in this country should not live their life in fear of being stopped for random things because they happen to be of brown skin.  These are citizens who are being stopped because they look like they might be an immigrant.

These things are already happening here in Alabama.  A young man born in California with a California drivers license seeks to transfer his license to Alabama.  This is simple transfer. It took me all of ten minutes to have it done.  This young man is told he needs to show his social security card and his passport.  Then told that the numbers on the two documents do not match and therefore he must be illegal.  The numbers, by the way, are not supposed to match; they are two very different documents through two very different federal agencies.  He goes to another department and is told that he must take the written test.

Another man from Puerto Rico is denied a driver’s license because he is told he needs to have a green card to be here.  Puerto Rico is a US territory which makes him a US citizen; he does not need a green card. This is the harassment that Latino / Hispanic people are already facing and the law has not gone into effect yet.

At Justice GA 2012 we are not anticipating any arrests.  We are planning [this is still tentative] however to be of service to the 190, 000 people who are eligible for citizenship but do not have the funds to get a lawyer to fill out paper work.  There is some talk about having some sort of immigration fair where people can come to the air conditioned convention center and receive help in filling out the paper work needed.  This might include power of attorney forms in case of deportation so their children will not be placed into state facilities but rather into trusted family or friends homes who are citizens. If our going to AZ in 2012 can help keep families safe and together, then this will be well worth the efforts.

We are planning on having workshops on how to do this work in our communities back home.  Because these laws are not just happening in a few states but are being raised in states across the country.

But it isn’t just state laws that need changing. There are federal laws as well.  The Secure Communities Act is supposed to target the undocumented violent criminal.  However, this law has instead targeted soccer moms, those who are just going about their business seeking citizenship.  26 % of those deported do not have a criminal record let alone a violent one.  “If people without criminal records are at risk for deportation, they will be less likely to call law enforcement in unsafe situations.[i]

What is happening in Alabama?  There is an increase in the religious voice against this law. Rallies in Birmingham and in Huntsville have already taken place.  I am working with my interfaith colleagues to have one here in Tuscaloosa the end of this month.  We are still working on some of the location logistics and hopefully this will be in place soon so we can officially advertise.

Holy Spirit Catholic Church is hosting a power of attorney fair this afternoon.  I will be going there to assist as best as I can in helping folks fill out power of attorney forms to protect their children from becoming wards of the state should they be arrested for deportation.

And one of the things I am doing in my role with the Mid-South District is to help organize a coordinated interfaith response across the state.  Right now there are events that are happening but it is not coordinated state wide and if there were to be a repeal bill then we need to be in communication with other people of faith on the judicatory and diocese level so that a united voice can be made.

The game has changed. We are being asked by our faith denomination to step up to the plate because we have a role to play.  I was speaking with someone the other day and she stated she didn’t know what the will of god is for this new century.  All she knew is that she wants her actions to help create the America of this new century.  She wants it to be an America that loves its neighbors, within its borders as well as outside its borders.

I was touched by her statement.  What story of America do we want told of the early 21st century?  What part of that story will you be telling?

 


Alabama’s HB 56 becomes law: Where is Justice?

This morning at 8:30 AM, Alabama Governor Bentley signed the controversial and harshest to date anti-immigration bill into law.  One portion of the law goes into effect immediately and that is the hiring of additional personnel to help enforce the law with Homeland Security.  The remainder of the law goes into effect September 1st.

After the Governor’s intent to sign the bill into law was announced late yesterday afternoon, I have been thinking about justice.  Where is Justice?  How does Justice come about?

It occurred to me that justice does not occur by simply speaking truth to power such as the many testimonies given at public hearings  and the letter writing campaigns. Though this could be a part of the development of justice.  Justice does not occur by marching through the streets  waving banners and yelling catchy slogans.  Though this, too, could be a part of the development of justice. And Justice does not occur by signing multiple petitions on this or that issue, though even this could be a part of the development of justice.

None of these by themselves brings about justice.  At best they are fragments of a larger whole but they themselves are not the underpinnings of justice. These were the activities that I and many others were involved in these past many months as we sought the defeat HB56 and these activities have not resulted in Justice.

The underpinnings of justice is in the relationships that are on equal footing.  Justice is ultimately reducing the suffering of others through personal, communal, institutional, and governmental relationships.

I can bring one level of justice to another person by being present in their pain, validating their injury as real. When I spent time with the immigrants in Laurel, MS after the ICE raid on Howard Industries, I listened to their stories. My presence as local clergy brought a sense of  justice to them.   I symbolized something greater than myself in my willingness to stand with them in their pain as they sought to receive their final paychecks.  This was personal.  It was a very real presence in time of help as the psalmist wrote.

When members of my congregation suffered loss in the Tornado of April 27 and then faced the degrading responses from the bureaucracy, I was able to stand with them.  Hearing their pain, hearing their frustration with a system that was meant to help, and encourage to plug away even when despair sought to engulf them whole.  Justice was in our relationship.  I sought to reduce their suffering. I listened.  Our denomination sought to reduce their suffering.  The denomination’s representatives listened to their stories and in listening, the seeds of justice were sprouting. This was justice unfolding in the personal and in the communal contexts. This was happening to our people.

I remember my home town of Danbury, CT following the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  It was the Jewish community that stood vigil and alert outside of the local mosque to ensure their neighbors safety as they worshiped. It was the Jewish community that escorted the Muslim women to the shops to ensure their safety from those whose anger might be misguided against them.  The Jews of this community knew what it was to be targeted and harassed for simply being identified as a Jew.  And they wanted to ensure that their Muslim neighbors would be safe in the land of liberty and justice for all.

From this relational action, justice was served and the larger community as the result of witnessing this act of solidarity did not respond with hatred as other communities did during the days following September 11th or even in the past recent months.  The community was reminded of its humanity in the prophetic witness of solidarity with a targeted minority.

They sought to ensure justice for people by recognizing that this Muslim community’s experience resonated with a similar experience their community experienced in another context of history.  In the process they developed new friendships and new relationships with people whose culture, whose religion,  whose history is very different from their own.  But they were saying even louder; our community reaches out to protect our people from violence.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Martin Luther King stated,” you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart.  (Taken from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s address at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963,)

To change the hearts of people in power, we need to share our stories.  We need to continue to share our stories over and over again.  We need to establish relationships with our allies in the state house and senate so that these stories can be shared with ease because these are personal and intimate stories.  These are stories of great pain.  These are stories of great injustices.

But the injustice is not one-sided. There is a grave injustice that has occurred to the people who believe this law is just.  The injustice is the false belief that there is not enough to go around.  The injustice is the false belief that they must be ever vigilant in protecting what is theirs. The injustice is the false belief that if they protect the wealthiest that one day they will be welcomed to that elite club of the top 1% in the nation.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  This is never more true than in the injustice that has been committed against the people who believe HB56 is the right tact to take in protecting America. Because an injustice  has been committed against them that another injustice is created against the immigrants.  And they are blind to see how these injustices have hardened their hearts against one another.

The preamble of our Constitution reads as follows:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Ultimately, the laws that we pass in this country, the behaviors we bestow upon our neighbors, the morals that we use as our guides in living our lives ought to reflect back to this covenant in which we established our Constitution.   And where HB 56 is concerned; how does it establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, and promote the general Welfare within the state of Alabama?

It does not.  Legislation needs to benefit our people, all of our people who claim Alabama as home.  And I ask again, where is Justice?

 

 

UU Alabama Ministers send Gov. Bentley Message on HB56

Late last night, Alabama sent substitute bill HB56 to Governor Bentley to be signed. This morning, the following letter signed by the Alabama Ministers was sent to Governor Bentley urging him to veto this bill.

3 June 2011

State Capitol
600 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, Alabama 36130

Dear Governor Bentley:

When the Legislature presents its substitute bill for HB56, I hope you will veto it. There are many reasons why this bill needs to be vetoed this year. But the major reason is it is simply not good for Alabama.

Governor Bentley, you recently sent back to the Legislature the proposed budget because there were bills that have not yet been passed that would place the budget out of balance and therefore make the budget unconstitutional. This bill will also make the budget unconstitutional in Alabama. Sections 22 and 23 require an increase in the state budget but because this bill falls under Amendment 621, a cost analysis is not needed to be established. But there is a cost that will be added to the state budget; and since Alabama is struggling to balance the budget in these dire economic times, this unknown cost will place the budget out of balance.

The act of criminalizing a whole group of people has costs associated to it that the state legislature has refused to seriously acknowledge. The arguments against these increased costs are based on assumed cost savings that are speculative and not based on real numbers of undocumented immigrants. We do not know how many immigrants are undocumented in the state but the Legislature is assuming that all Spanish speaking citizens are undocumented. This bill, therefore, targets anyone whose first language is Spanish and who looks like they come from south of the border.

Despite all arguments that racial profiling will not be permitted, human nature will dictate the occurrence of racial profiling. Our law enforcement personnel will not be able to be adequately trained to determine reasonable suspicion when language and ethnicity are part of the mix. But even if they were adequately trained, this bill also requires schools to determine if students were born in this country. Federal law requires that all children be given a public education regardless of national origin. This bill increases racial profiling in the schools.

This bill states the presumption that undocumented immigrants are causing economic hardship and an increase in lawlessness. There is no proof that this is the case. The legislature has come up with spurious anecdotes but nothing is found in the documentation. There is documentation that immigrants (undocumented and documented) have increased the state’s revenue in taxes and increased economic development in their respective communities. In fact, the state has had a decrease in violent crimes over the last decade even while the immigrant population has increased. This presumption is therefore a biased statement.

Governor, I urge you to veto this bill when it comes across your desk. It has components that in Arizona have cost that state millions of dollars in litigation. It has components that are blatantly prejudiced and demonize a hard-working segment of our population. This is not a job creation bill unless Alabama is seeking to increase the private for-profit prison industry in the state by criminalizing a whole population. Is this the Alabama you want to create as a legacy of your administration?

Sincerely,

Rev. Fred L Hammond, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Rev. Diana Allende, Minister, Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

Rev. Lone Jensen Broussard, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham

Rev. Paul Britner, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery

Rev. Alice Syltie, Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Huntsville

Alabama HB 56 Public Hearing

I have just returned from my first foray into Alabama politics at the statehouse where a public hearing on HB 56, Alabama’s combined version of several  laws passed in Arizona regarding immigration.  Many of the provisions are word for word from Arizona and thus if you hated Arizona’s SB 1070, then you will hate Alabama’s.

The first Wednesday of the month is the usual day when  my Unitarian Universalist ministers from Alabama and the Florida panhandle gather in Montgomery for a collegial meeting.  My Florida colleagues were unable to come to Montgomery today, so I suggested that we meet at the statehouse and attend this public hearing.  I was going to prepare a statement and having my colleagues there was indeed a comforting presence.

I have not done a statement at a public hearing in several years, the last time being when I lived in Connecticut and so I was anticipating a similar procedure where one needs to sign up well in advance of the meeting in order to get on the speakers list.   This really was not a concern I needed to worry about.   I got there early.  So did another person who it turns out had been on several emails that I received from Unitarian Universalists in the Birmingham area.  When the doors opened for the meeting I became the first person to sign up to speak, my new acquaintance, third.

State Rep. Mickie Hammon (Yes my last name minus the d)  is the chair and chief sponsor of this bill.  He gave a few introductory remarks including that this bill is already being amended and therefore much of what we are responding to could no longer be valid.  He then called on me to speak.

Here is the text that I delivered.

My name is Fred L Hammond, I am a resident of Northport.  I am also the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa.

Last night, Governor Bentley stated that your role now that the election is over is to represent all of Alabama; this bill does not represent 4% of our people in this state.  This bill causes you to not live up to the role set by our Governor.

Where-ever a similar bill to HB 56, has been passed, be it in Prince William County in Virginia or in Arizona the result has been the destruction of whole neighborhoods and local economies. And while these bills in these other locations also claimed to not use racial profiling, the lives of authorized citizens were repeatedly interrupted by unwarranted stops by police based on “reasonable suspicion.” These locations became hostile environments for American citizens who also happened to have brown skin or spoke with a particular accent.  We must not allow this to happen again in Alabama.

Nor does this bill serve the well being of our municipalities who will be mandated to enforce a law with no consideration of what the economic cost to those municipalities will be.  This body of legislators has not done its homework on what the direct and indirect cost will be to Alabama. Since the state will not be raising taxes to fund the additional work load being requested, municipalities and counties will have to raise their own taxes.  In Prince William County where this bill was first piloted in this nation, the county had to raise its taxes by 33% in order to be in compliance with the law. And that still was not enough to enable full compliance by the local police.  This will happen here in Alabama as well and will cause further collapse of this state’s economy as the poor and middle class fall under its heavy financial burden.

Another result of similar legislation elsewhere was soccer moms were going to prison while murderers and rapists remained on the street.  The courts were mandated to place a higher priority on an immigrant being found guilty of trespassing or transporting an unauthorized citizen to church while the seeking of true justice for the victims of violent crimes were placed into limbo.  This court mandate is in HB 56 as well.   There is already a two year waiting period in Montgomery courts for cases to be heard. This bill will have dire consequences and unforeseen costs to the well being of Alabama.

This bill would potentially criminalize with a felony workers for shelters who are trying to protect their clients from the domestic violence of their spouses.  If the client is an unauthorized citizen, then the worker is in violation of this bill for concealing and transporting an unauthorized citizen.  He or she could have their car impounded, charged with smuggling a human being, and charged with concealing or hiding an unauthorized citizen. The employee could be convicted with two Class C felonies simply for doing their job.

This legislation troubles me as a person of faith on many levels.  Our faith calls us to love mercifully, to act with justice, and to walk humbly with our God.  It is what Christians, Jews, Muslims and many other faith traditions are also called to do in their faith. This bill prevents what good people of faith are called to do and therefore must not be passed.  Thank you.

The next speaker was a proponent of the bill. He immediately launched into an attack wondering what planet I lived on. His body posture was angry and he shouted from the podium at the evils of illegal immigrants.

Then my new acquaintance spoke. She calmly shared some stories about her work in the Hispanic community. She pointed out the sections of the bill that would inadvertently target them. She provided some facts regarding immigrants in the state.

The next speaker was a former Minuteman from the southwest. He also yelled and screamed about his first hand knowledge of what these illegals do to Americans. I think I am beginning to see a pattern. And sure enough those who were for this bill were angry, emotional, and offered no facts to support their stance. Those who were against this bill or might have been in favor of the concept of the bill but against certain sections of the bill were calm, reasoned in their speech.

Because I had gone first, those who were vehemently for this legislation would reference my statement and attack it or would glare at me as they referenced it. Here are two examples of comments that were made. “I hope this committee is not buying these buckets of compassion.” “Yes, Christians are called to love mercifully, that is why we have missionaries to go into their countries to fix them there [italics mine] so that they do not have to come here.” During this speakers direct reference to my testimony, I caught Rep. Hammon staring at me from the chair’s bench. I do not know what was going on in his mind but he was startled when he realized I caught him.

In all there were about 10 speakers who were against this legislation and six who were for this legislation. At the end of the speakers, Rep. Hammon spoke again. He stated that it costs Alabama $200 million a year to educate unauthorized children and provide emergency medical care to unauthorized citizens in the state so while there will be municipality costs to his attrition through enforcement bill it will be outweighed by the savings. This figure is totally fictional.

First, public schools are mandated by the federal government to provide a quality education to children K-12 irrespective of citizen status. Therefore, we simply do not know how many undocumented children there are in Alabama’s schools as it is data not taken. [Watch out this will be coming.] Second, hospitals also do not know how many of their patients are undocumented and receiving treatment. [Again, watch out Alabama this too may be coming down the pike. These two unknown factors are currently before the Arizona legislation in direct opposition to federal law.] Therefore, since we do not know how many students or how many patients, there is no way to know what the cost is to educate undocumented people or medically treat undocumented people in Alabama.

But as I discovered in listening to today’s testimony bonafide facts are dismissed and raw emotional fear is valued. I have a feeling that I am going to become well acquainted with the Statehouse as this issue moves forward.