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Church leaders urge gov. to repeal immigration law

By Phillip Rawls

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 19 2011 1:20 p.m. MST

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Several leaders of the Roman Catholic, United Methodist and Episcopal churches in Alabama wrote a letter Monday to the governor, saying they are praying he will show political courage and support repeal of Alabama's immigration law.

Short of repeal, they said they pray the governor will work for revisions in what they called "an unjust and unfair law."

The six leaders who wrote the letter had previously sued in federal court to try to overturn the law.

The letter about prayer marked a different approach to opposing the law after trying lawsuits, nonviolent protests and marches, including hundreds who rallied Saturday at the Capitol and Governor's Mansion in Montgomery.

The governor's press secretary, Jennifer Ardis, said Monday that the law won't be repealed, but Bentley is working on changes.

"Governor Bentley recognizes that changes are needed to ensure that Alabama has not only the nation's most effective law, but one that is fair and just, promotes economic growth, preserves jobs for those in Alabama legally, and can be enforced effectively and without prejudice," she said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the Alabama immigration law and the Republican governor signed it in June with the goal of scaring off illegal immigrants, a move supporters said would open up jobs for legal residents in a state suffering from nearly 10 percent unemployment at the time.

Sections of the law took effect in late September amid court challenges, but other parts were blocked by federal courts in response to lawsuits by the Obama administration, immigrant rights groups, religious organizations and others.

Signing the letter Monday to Bentley were: Henry Parsley Jr., the Episcopal Bishop in Birmingham; Thomas J. Rodi, the Roman Catholic archbishop in Mobile; Robert J. Baker, the Roman Catholic bishop in Birmingham; William Willimon, the United Methodist bishop in Birmingham; Cletus D. Meagher, abbot of the Benedictine Society of Alabama; and Janet Marie Flemming, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman.

An attorney for the religious leaders, Augusta Dowd, recalled that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous "Letter from Birmingham City Jail" in 1963 to white church leaders criticizing them for sitting on the sidelines during the civil rights movement. But now times have changed in Alabama.

"These church leaders today will not be the recipient of such a letter," she said.

Dowd said the church leaders have received criticism for speaking out, but they are seeing the effects of the law firsthand. "They have seen a real chilling effect on their ministries and their outreach programs. Even people in the country legally are afraid to show up," she said.

In the letter, the religious leaders said, "In this holy season of our Lord's birth, we remember that our Biblical charge to do justice, to have mercy, and to walk humbly with our God is over 2000 years old. We pray you keep close to its meaning and moral imperative as you work to right this legislative wrong."

Bentley's press secretary said the governor will work with the Legislature to make sure everyone living and working in Alabama is doing so legally.

"As Governor Bentley said before, there is nothing unkind, unjust or unwarranted about asking everyone in Alabama to obey the law," she said.

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