Thursday, March 2, 2006

Local clergymen whose churches help illegal aliens say they would disobey a proposed law that they say would require them to verify the legal status of their clients.

“We’re going to provide services — period,” says Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington. “We serve tens of thousands of new immigrants — some undocumented, some not — every year. And we can’t not help them.

“It’s the same as with a sick child: You’re not going to ask them if they’re documented before helping them.”

The Rev. Lou Piel, head pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, says his church will “definitely continue to provide aid,” such as coffee and restroom facilities, to day laborers who gather each morning in the church’s parking lot.

“The policy of the church is, we are a Christian church and these are human beings, whether they are legal or illegal,” Mr. Piel says.

Church leaders are voicing opposition to House legislation that is scheduled to come before the Senate this week.

Sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, the bill calls for extending legal-status verification duties to public, private, for-profit and nonprofit agencies that help illegal aliens find work.

The bill calls for up to five years in prison for anyone who directs or assists an illegal alien to reside or remain in the United States. It also would impose a maximum fine of $40,000 for each illegal alien who an employer hires or who an agency helps find work.

Supporters of the bill say it is aimed at cracking down on those who smuggle or hire illegal aliens, not groups that run day-laborer centers or provide other assistance to them.

Nonetheless, the National Capital Immigrant Coalition — an umbrella of about 40 religious, business and civic groups — plans to demonstrate against the bill Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol.

Connie Hair, spokeswoman for the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, an illegal-entry watchdog group, says she thinks churches have “overblown the concern” about facing jail time or fines.

“I don’t think [churches] so much exacerbate the situation [of encouraging illegal immigration],” Miss Hair says. “Churches do what churches do, which is give comfort and aid to people, and far be it for anyone to dictate to a church how to take care of humanity.

“That said, I think they need to take a look at what causes people to come across and do some real thinking about ways that they can help with the severe human rights issues associated with [human] trafficking,” she says. “They should include that in any humanitarian aid that they’re giving.”

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