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Alabama's strict immigration law doesn't take effect until September 1, but pastor Carlos Aybar saw fear spread around suburban Huntsville as soon as Governor Robert Bentley signed it in June.

"Everyone was feeling the same thing—confusion, fear, and desperation," said Aybar, pastor of Restoration Foursquare Church's Spanish-speaking mission in Madison. "Everyone is affected, but mostly the teenagers and kids who were raised here and feel this is their country—their home."

The most controversial provision prohibits knowingly offering rides to undocumented residents; others place restrictions on hiring or renting property to them.

"It will definitely affect the Hispanic church," said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. "They will be fearful of even using vans to pick up [church] members—many of whom can't afford their own cars and depend on the church for transportation."

"We call it the 'Clergy Criminalization Act,'" said Luis Cortes, Jr., president of the Philadelphia-based Esperanza network. "This is going to punish anyone who is a humanitarian and force Christians to break the law. I'm shocked the church didn't speak against it."

In its aftermath, many did. More than 150 ministers in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church signed an open letter decrying it. At its annual meeting in mid-June, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) adopted a resolution advocating ministry to everyone regardless of immigration status (while also calling for border security and holding businesses accountable in hiring).

Alabama's law followed on ...

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August 2011

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