Southern Hospitality? Not for Immigrants
That stranger could have been me, 20 years ago, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Fresh out of college in Beijing, I had left my home country in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre. Landing in the sleepy college town, I was disappointed that Times Square was nowhere to be seen. I started going to churches, and without a car, I had to rely on good Samaritans for rides on Sunday. A newbie not yet brazen enough, I always carried a Bible, which seemed to work better than a hitchhiker’s thumb. When kindhearted folks — men in immaculate suits and women in puffy, flowery dresses — stopped for me and asked what church I was going to, I would invariably say, “Yours.”
If the same scene is played again today, you, the good Samaritan, could be in trouble. According to an Alabama law that went into effect on Sept. 1, it is a crime to knowingly give an illegal immigrant a ride. In reality, I was kosher as far as my immigration status was concerned. And even if I were not, you might walk away scot-free because you didn’t know I was illegal. But after Gov. Robert J. Bentley — who in January apologized for saying after taking office, “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother” — signed the immigration law in June, you probably wouldn’t stop for a stranger like me, kosher or not. And that’s one of the problems with the law — its mean spirit. It goes against a basic tenet of Christian belief: “Help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you” (Leviticus 25:35). But that’s not my only beef with the law.