Saturday, June 18, 2011

Baptists' decision 'amnesty' by another name

An immigration reform organization says Southern Baptists, like any other religious denomination, have an obligation to respect the laws of the land when it comes to who has the right to live in the U.S.

At its annual convention in Phoenix, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution advocating a path to legal status for people are in the U.S. illegally. It also called on Southern Baptists to reject bigotry and to minister to all people, regardless of immigration status.

SBC spokesman Paul Jimenez said the main reason for the resolution was the desire to spread the gospel to immigrants. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), reacts to the SBC's resolution.

"Nobody is asking the Southern Baptists or any other church to enforce laws or to treat people without proper respect," he offers, "but they also have to respect the fact that the United States is a sovereign nation -- and it is the government of the United States that determines immigration laws based on the needs of the country, not based on the desire of a particular church seeking religious converts."

The resolution only passed by a broad margin after language was added saying it should not be construed as an endorsement of "amnesty." Mehlman says it is a question of semantics.

"The bottom line is that we're talking about taking millions of people who violated our laws, and in the end granting them legal status," says the FAIR media director. "I think most Americans would consider that to be amnesty. Other people might prefer to use euphemisms, but the American people understand what it is."

Mehlman says observing the laws of nations has been a principle going back to the time of both the New and Old Testaments.


Lawsuit over Indiana immigration law heading to court

Civil rights groups claim a new Indiana law set to take effect July 1 gives police sweeping arrest powers against immigrants who haven't committed any crime. The state attorney general's office argues such fears are exaggerated and based on misunderstanding of the law.

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson is set to hear arguments from both sides Monday as she considers a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the National Immigration Law Center, which are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect next month.

The groups aren't fighting all provisions of the wide-ranging law, which also takes away certain tax credits from employers who hire illegal immigrants. The main bone of contention is arrest powers.

The new law allows police to arrest immigrants under certain conditions, including if they face a removal order issued by an immigration court. The lawsuit filed last month, however, says some of the conditions are too broad, can apply widely to thousands of immigrants and violate the constitutional requirement of probable cause.

For example, the civil rights groups contend the law's wording would allow the arrest of anyone who has had a notice of action filed by immigration authorities, a formal paperwork step that affects virtually anyone applying to be in the U.S. for any reason.

"The statute authorizes Indiana police to arrest persons despite the fact that there is no probable cause that such persons have committed crimes," the groups argued in a brief filed this month.

The Indiana law also makes it illegal for immigrants to present ID cards issued by foreign consulates as proof of identification anywhere in the state outside of the consulate, such as for buying alcohol or applying for a bank account.

The lawsuit claims the state is trying to step into immigration issues that clearly are the province of the federal government. The suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on behalf of two Mexicans and one Nigerian who live in the Indianapolis area.

ACLU attorney Ken Falk said Thursday that four countries — Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador and Guatemala — plan to file briefs in the case. The move would not be unusual, Mexico and 10 other countries recently joined civil rights groups' legal fight against a tough new immigration law in Georgia and there have been similar filings in other states.

State attorneys argue claims about the law are speculative and based on an "irrational" and "absurd" interpretation. They note Indiana's law doesn't go as far as the Arizona measure, struck down on appeal, that included provisions to compel police to check the citizenship status of anyone who they had "reasonable suspicion" to believe is in the country illegally.

"Indiana's statute merely gives Indiana officers the discretion to assist federal enforcement of immigration laws. Indiana's statute does not purport to give Indiana any ability to participate in federal removal or deportation proceedings, nor does it allow Indiana to pass judgment concerning the removability of an individual," the state said in its brief filed Wednesday.

In a response filed Friday, the ACLU dismissed state arguments that the law would be used only in cases where people otherwise faced arrest, repeating its claim that the statute authorized arrest for offenses that aren't crimes in violation of the Fourth Amendment and impinged on federal immigration authority.

"Immigration is not a state concern," the brief flatly stated.

State immigration enforcement laws have not recently fared well in federal courts.

Arizona passed its law in 2010, but parts of were put on hold by a district court judge before it went into effect. That ruling was upheld in April by a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and last month Gov. Jan Brewer said she plans to appeal the rulings to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last month, a Utah law giving police the authority to arrest anyone who cannot prove their citizenship was put on hold by a federal judge 14 hours after it went into effect. The next hearing is there scheduled in July.


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