The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

AFA Blogger: Undocumented Immigrants Like Prison Escapees

By Robert Steinback on October 11, 2011 - 3:47 pm, Posted in Anti-Immigrant

American Family Association (AFA) blogger Elijah Friedeman thinks Alabama’s new, draconian law targeting undocumented immigrants and anyone who would assist them or knowingly fail to turn them in, is wonderful.

What puzzles him, according to his essay posted Friday on AFA’s Rightly Concerned website, is that many Christian church leaders, even conservative ones, oppose the law (see also here) – after all, Friedeman writes, undocumented immigrants are the conceptual equivalent of convicted felons who have escaped from prison.

It’s hard to decide which notion is more astonishing – that Friedeman struggles to understand the nature of Christian charity that places helping people ahead of checking their papers, or that he would consider people who, for the most part are merely trying to support their families by doing hard work at low wages few others are willing to do, the equivalent of robbers, rapists and murderers.

“Let’s say that a convicted felon escapes from prison. This prison escapee is – illegally – living freely in America,” Friedeman writes. “If a church, with full knowledge that the felon was a prison escapee, welcomed him into their midst and gave him car rides to and from church, those in the church could – and probably should – face charges for knowingly harboring and aiding someone who was breaking the law.”

The same should be true for an “illegal alien … living freely in America in complete disregard for the rule of law,” Friedeman says. “As Christians, we should respect illegal immigrants and love them, but we should not help them break the law.”

Friedeman ignores that knowingly abetting an escaped convict has always been illegal in every U.S. jurisdiction. Until Alabama passed its law in June, it was not illegal for a church or anyone else in the state to feed, clothe, house or render first aid to someone lacking proper residency documentation; indeed, the law required that they receive treatment in emergency rooms and that their children attend school. The Alabama Legislature chose to create two entirely new classes of state criminal: People lacking proper documentation and the people who help them.

Friedeman also disregards the long history of churches worldwide that, on the strength of their faith, have acted on behalf of escaped slaves, political dissidents, refugees, victims of abuse, children and countless others. Would he now insist that religious groups’ first obligation is to act as de facto government agents?

Numerous churches, understandably, have objected to the new state law. Four Alabama Christian bishops, in a lawsuit filed in August, argued that the law would “make it a crime to follow God’s command to be Good Samaritans.”

Curiously, many right-wing Christian commentators – including the AFA’s chief ideologue Bryan Fischer – have complained that LGBT rights would compromise or criminalize Bible-based preaching against gay and lesbian lifestyles, yet AFA apparently isn’t worried about criminalizing Bible-based charitable acts on behalf of immigrants in need.

Friedeman breezily dismisses the dilemma church partisans face. “I don’t think that anyone would suggest that if an illegal alien was lying beaten and bloodied on the side of the road that we shouldn’t help them,” he writes. “It’s highly unlikely that any church would face prosecution for taking an illegal immigrant to church, particularly in a conservative, Christian state like Alabama. But should the church face prosecution? That’s another question.”

Indeed it is: Would Jesus demand papers?

  • Robert Steinback

    To Dick Lancaster,

    Do I understand you correctly? You feel Jesus would scold me for criticizing people with whom I disagree politically? Didn’t Jesus himself criticize the people — read, the Pharisees or the money changers — with whom he disagreed?

    And in the contemporary world, you believe Jesus might be raising money to “help Mexicans return to their homeland,” as the biblical Jews returned to theirs. Let’s see… the Jews sought the Promised Land after being liberated from enslavement in Egypt. Mexican immigrants are here largely at the invitation of U.S. employers who happily pay them low wages to do backbreaking work few Americans would do at twice the price. There certainly is an element of exploitation of Mexicans here, but for many undocumented immigrants, this, not Mexico, has been the Promised Land.

    You have a curious view of the Bible if you believe Jesus — whose parents, according to the Bible, were emigres themselves who were compelled to return to their native Bethlehem for the Roman census when Jesus was born — would be a nativist sympathizer.

    Robert Steinback
    Deputy Editor, Hatewatch blog
    Southern Poverty Law Center

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Very simple Dick: A house is private property. The country is not your private property.

  • Dick Lancaster

    Leave your doors and windows open THINKWORLDPEACE. There are a lot of needy American families that would love to share your lifestyle, groceries, money, booze (or drugs as the case may be), and maybe even your wife and kids. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let that anger boil up in you to where you ever consider kicking your guests out. If you did, you’d become just like me.


    I find it curious that people are capable of anything when threatened including crafting and passing racist laws to cleanse their states of “those people” all the while callously and maliciously campaigning against the targeted group by labeling them as sub-human with every despicable term imaginable. Here’s the problem with racist hate campaigns: they irreparably harm all people–legal and illegal–who fall into their supposed target group. And I for one, as part of that group, am ENRAGED at the vulgar, obscene hatred and ignorance of those Americans who not only fiendishly craft these laws but those who also support these laws. I am resisting with all my might the hatred welling up inside of me for “those people” who have made my life, my family’s life, my ancestors’ lives a living hell filled with racism and discrimination and have been permitted to treat us like second class citizens for centuries. I can no longer brush-off the condescension and contempt that belies their “compartmentalized illegal-only” hollow and deceitful rhetoric. In the end, HATE BEGETS HATE; to claim otherwise in the name of Christ is blasphemous.

  • Dick Lancaster

    Did I read Robert Steinback asking what Jesus would do?
    He might start off by scolding you for criticising your brothers that don’t agree with you politically.

    But in a contemporary world Jesus just might organize a fund raising campaign to help the Mexicans return to their homeland. Lord knows they’re not treated well here and Jews certainly know the value of returning to a homeland.

  • Roberto

    Hate has fueled our country into division and I am not surprised that we have Christian people acting like Satan . The bible has already warned us ( followers of Jesus) about them being ungodly and worldly. Lord Jesus have mercy on the U.S.A

  • Walterius

    As a conservative, I stand opposed to the Alabama law directing LEO’s to indefinitely detain anyone for “questions as to their immigration status.” I have no qualms with law abiding people of any race, creed, beliefs or status who simply seek a better life for themselves. However, considering that approximately 27 percent of those incarcerated in the US prison system are illegal immigrants (, the issue of immigration status has become a political morass of panicking politicians desperate to deflect the public’s attention away from the real issues of the day.

    The only way to keep illegals out of the US is the ensure that economic and social issues around the world are solved or at least moderated to give these “illegals” reasons to freely live and work in their native countries. Until then, the States and Federal government need to work out a real solution to this problem. Perhaps these “illegals” could register their status with a State, without fear of detention, pay a small fine for their “status crimes” to continue on with their lives. At least in this manner, the governments would know who these people are and why they are here. Let the lawyers handle the remaining details later. People need to feel safe from unwarranted government intrusion into their daily lives.

    Furthermore, my fellow Americans consider this, what constitutes “proper identification?” I, for one do not drive, and therefore have no need for a driver’s license. The rules for obtaining state ID cards somewhat capricious at best. Ask any homeless person or certain criminal elements within our society how easy it is to obtain “legal” identification. Are the issuance of national ID cards in the works? If so, it will be a very sad day for our Nation.

    Oh, and just for the record, I carry my US passport and Veterans Hospital ID cards with me at all times to prove that I am a citizen.