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Can churches be forced to comply with the immigration reporting requirements contained in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 against their will? Yes, concluded a federal district court in California. In 1986, Congress enacted a comprehensive immigration reform law requiring all employers (including churches) to verify the identity and employment eligibility of every employee hired on or after June 1, 1987 (the application of the new law to churches was explained fully in the July-August 1987 issue of Church Law & Tax Report). Employers who fail to comply with the new law are subject to various penalties. A Quaker social services agency, supported by more than 100 other religious organizations, challenged the law in court. It claimed that compliance with the law's requirements would violate its "sincerely held religious beliefs in the sacredness and equality of human life," and would require it to participate in an immigration program that it believed would "visit hunger and deprivation" upon illegal immigrants. The court summarily rejected these claims. It observed that in determining whether or not a law violates the first amendment's guaranty of religious freedom, the courts must consider three factors: "(1) the magnitude of the law's impact upon the exercise of religious beliefs, (2) the existence of a compelling state interest justifying the burden imposed upon the exercise of religious belief, and (3) the extent to which recognition of an exemption from the law would impede the objectives sought to be advanced by the state." The court readily agreed that the law had a "substantial impact" on the religious organization's right to freely exercise its religion. However, it insisted that this right was outweighed by the government's compelling interest in controlling immigration. Further, the court concluded that granting an exemption to religious organizations would not be feasible since it would "reactivate the employment 'magnet' which draws illegal aliens to the United States. [The government] notes that over 100 religious organizations [support the position of the Quaker social services agency in this case], and therefore an exemption could have far reaching effects on immigration policy." American Friends Service Committee v. Thornburgh, 718 F. Supp. 820 (C.D. Cal. 1989).

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  • May 1, 1990

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Immigration & the Church
Immigration & the Church
Keep your church safe and legal and as you strive to serve the immigrant communities in your context.