Hubbard defending immigration law

Published 3:31 pm Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Alabama’s new immigration bill signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley earlier this month has drawn criticism from religious leaders and activists.

But Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) is still defending it.

Last week, United Methodist Bishop William Willimon, head of the North Alabama Conference, called the state’s new law the “meanest” in the nation and an embarrassment to the state. The Methodist bishop for south Alabama, Paul W. Leeland, has also issued a statement opposing the law.

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Willimon, the North Alabama bishop, noted that many churches have Hispanic outreach programs and ministries, and said that the law “appears to criminalize Alabamians in the act of being helpful and compassionate.”

When it was first proposed, the law made it illegal to transport aliens for medical care or to get groceries. That language was eventually struck from the bill, but critics feel that what remains in the 72-page law will make immigrants hesitant to take advantage of outreach programs.

As passed, the law criminalizes the hiring of illegal immigrants; forbids state contracts or sub-contracts with those who work illegal workers; forbids renting housing to them; and requires state schools to document and report to the state the number of students who appear to be the children of illegal residents. As well, the bill requires driver’s stopped for other traffic offenses to have proof of legal residence, and prohibits the state from issuing licenses or car tags to illegals.

But Hubbard, who did a series of calls with newspapers across the state on Friday, said he, too, is a Methodist and not all members of the church agree with its leaders.

“As soon as this came out, I received a call from my minister,” he said. “He assured me the bishop in the Northern district doesn’t speak for all Methodists.

“What he’s saying is we should overlook all people doing crimes. We’re talking about illegal immigration here in the country and in our state. We are a nation of laws and state of laws. Can’t understand people who say you shouldn’t be picking on these folks.”

Hubbard said immigrants who are in the state illegally consume services for which taxpayers pay – like schools and emergency resources.

“We are trying to determine who and how many,” he said. “This is not a situation where we’re going to be doing raids and deporting people. If a person is stopped for another offense, he or she has to prove he is legal. And there are ways to be in the country legally, work without being a citizen.”

Hubbard said if the federal government were doing its job on immigration, Alabama’s new law wouldn’t be necessary.

Alabama’s law is very similar to an immigration bill passed in Arizona, parts of which have already been declared unconstitutional. Already, activists like the Southern Poverty Law Center have vowed to challenge the law in court. Most of the law goes into effect of Sept. 1 of this year.

Asked about the cost of litigating the bill, Hubbard said, “We will always have litigation or the threat of litigation. If you let the threat of litigation keep you from passing a law, you’d never pass one.

“It’s the right thing to do, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Hubbard said he was pleased with what the legislature accomplished in the 2011 regular session, the first in which the Republican party controlled both houses since Reconstruction.