ST. LOUIS, Aug. 17, 2011 — The immigration law recently passed by the state of Alabama will make it illegal to practice virtually every facet of Christian charity, said the president of the National Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP), a Catholic lay organization that works extensively with those in need and living in poverty.
“Giving a disabled person a ride to the doctor, finding a temporary shelter for someone, or just giving food, clothing or financial assistance to someone in need – all those things would be made a crime under this law if they were done for an undocumented alien,” said Joseph D. Flannigan, SVdP’s national president. “Our members provide a broad range of assistance and help to those in need regardless of ethnic background, religion or national origin, so the good works we accomplish would be compromised by this law.”
The law, H.B. 56, was signed by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and is scheduled to go into effect in September.
“Reactionary and draconian measures like this law serve only to drive undocumented immigrants further into the shadows and dehumanize them,” said Flannigan. “Disenfranchising people who aren’t natives isn’t new. Even Moses in the Old Testament admonished his people: ‘You shall not oppress or afflict the alien among you, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.’”
Flannigan said his ancestors from Ireland also experienced discrimination, distrust and disdain when they first arrived on America’s shores. He referenced a quote from the Chicago Post newspaper from the 1800s: “The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses … Scratch a convict or pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country.”
Laws such as Alabama’s, he said, have been born out of frustration with the federal government’s failure to adequately address immigration issues, and the only viable solution is a national approach that addresses every aspect of the issue.
“Otherwise,” said Flannigan, “this process will continue until we’ve got 50 states with 50 different laws, many of which will be in conflict with each other or, in the case of Alabama’s law, make it illegal to practice the basic tenets of our faith and Christian charity.”
One of the oldest and most effective charitable organizations in the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic lay organization of more than 690,000 men and women throughout the world who voluntarily join together to grow spiritually and offer person-to-person service to the needy and people living in poverty in 142 countries on five continents. With the U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., membership in the United States totals more than 172,000 in 4,600 communities. Programs include home visits, housing assistance, disaster relief, job training and placement, food pantries, dining halls, clothing, transportation and utility costs, care for the elderly and medicine. Providing more than $595 million in tangible and in-kind services, SVdP serves more than 14 million people in need each year, performs more than 648,000 visits to people in their homes, and delivers more than 7 million service hours to those in need, regardless of age, religion, creed, nationality or ethnic background.