In July, Wilson introduced legislation that sought to gain permanent resident status for an illegal immigrant named Sainey H. Fatty. You can see the text of the bill here.
George Finnan, a veteran immigration lawyer, told TPMmuckraker that the measure is what immigration lawyers refer to as a "private bill" -- that is, an effort to win legal residence for one particular immigrant. "It's done, but it's not done often," said Finnan. "If I were a congressman, it would be a nice way to make a constituent happy."
So why would Wilson -- the new face of the anti-immigration movement -- have acted to help Fatty?
Wilson's spokesman didn't return our call. But could Fatty's Christianity -- and his work on behalf of a Christian ministry -- have spurred Wilson to intervene?
Bill Cook, an evangelical Christian who claims to be a friend of Fatty's, wrote on his blog on July 17th (scroll down) that Fatty is a native of Gambia who grew up as a Muslim. After coming to the U.S. in the early 1990s to study at the City University of New York, he converted to Christianity. According to Cook, Fatty has been living for several years in South Carolina, where he works for an international student ministry on the campus of the University of South Carolina.
Indeed, HIS International, a non-denominational Christian group based on the USC campus, lists Fatty as a staff member. Fatty's short bio on the group's site confirms that he is from Gambia, and says he has served on staff since 2003.
That profile would likely appeal to the Christian conservative Wilson. In 2007, he co-sponsored a bill which, among other things, "acknowledge[d] the role played by Christians and Christianity in the founding of the US and in the formation of the western civilization; and reject[ed] bigotry and persecution directed against Christians, both in the US and worldwide."
If Fatty were to return to Gambia, his life would be in danger. His family could kill him for converting away from Islam. For this reason, he has continued to live in the United States under a deportation order for the past seven years, in the hope that he could find a way to remain here.
It's unclear what level of threat Fatty would have face were he forced to return to Gambia. A 2008 State Department report found that the Gambian government "generally respected religious freedom in practice." Though there were "a few isolated reports of societal abuse or discrimination based on religious affiliation," there were no reports of "religious prisoners or detainees" or of "forced religious conversion."
Neither Fatty nor Cook responded to TPMmuckraker's requests for comment.
It's also unclear what came of Wilson's effort on Fatty's behalf. It was referred to the Immigration subcommittee, where it appears to have stayed. Last month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate, which currently appears to also be stuck in the committee stage.
Cook wrote in late July that Wilson's bill was "rejected by the subcommittee" but that "Congressman Wilson and others reached out to Senators DeMint and Graham, who were able to secure a temporary stay."
What to make of all this?
If Fatty genuinely faced persecution in Gambia, Wilson may have acted compassionately in trying to use his position to help him stay in the U.S. But, if nothing else, the congressman's efforts suggest he's a little more selective in his anti-immigrant fervor than the hard right might like to imagine.
Hat tip to Raw Story.