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Alabama Tops Them All With Harsh New Anti-Immigrant Law

July 15, 2011

When Arizona passed SB-1070, people across the country were stunned by its open declaration of war on undocumented workers in this country. States run by conservative politicians started lining up to imitate the law. So far, 1,538 similar bills and resolutions have been generated by various states and are pending votes. At the start of the summer, four states had passed extensive anti-immigrant laws like SB-1070.

Then, at the beginning of June, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley successfully oversaw the passage of a law in his state more severe than Arizona’s. SB-1070, meet your sadistic younger cousin: HB-56. One introductory part of the bill states:

The State of Alabama finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state and that illegal immigration is encouraged when public agencies within this state provide public benefits without verifying immigration status.

HB-56 enables police to stop anyone who they believe could be an illegal immigrant, thus legitimizing racial profiling. They must also demand proof of citizenship from anyone they stop for another offense, from jaywalking to speeding. People can be detained if they don’t have papers proving they were born in this country or have official immigration status. However, Alabama’s new law goes beyond police involvement. It also mandates the complicity of the state educational system, businesses, and landlords.

Starting September 1, all immigrants in Alabama will be guilty of a state crime if they do not carry documents proving their legal status. Not a misdemeanor—a crime. And they can be held indefinitely until they provide the proper paperwork.

It will also be a crime in Alabama to give a ride to an undocumented worker—this includes rides from friends, from church organizations, from carpool groups, and even from school buses. To further hinder the “illegal transportation” of workers, the bill has a clause making it a crime to pick up farm laborers for transport on buses if the vehicle that is stopped blocks traffic in any way. Obviously, this allows police to swoop in and check everyone’s papers; but it also means that farm employers will have problems offering transport to their workers to the fields each day.

Alabama teachers and school administrators must collect copies of birth certificates or sworn affidavits of citizenship from every student, starting with kindergarteners. Colleges may not have undocumented immigrants as students—not even those who are seeking political asylum.

It will be a crime to rent an apartment to any family that includes an undocumented immigrant—making it impossible for families with even one member without papers to find a place to live.

And no more immigrant guests in your Alabama home. “Harboring” an undocumented worker, even for a single night, can lead to your arrest as well as the arrest of your guest.

In addition, Alabama businesses must use the federal program E-Verify to prove that every employee is a citizen of the United States or a “legal” immigrant. Anyone who has ever used E-Verify knows that it is filled with inaccurate and misleading information; it is also costly. The program has an error rate of about 10 percent and in some cases, even higher. In 2008, 33.5 percent of firings of immigrant workers occurred because of false E-Verify information. But the Supreme Court has upheld Arizona’s mandate to employees for its use, so that part of this law is not open for challenge.

The ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suits to contest HB-56, but a judicial remedy is a lengthy process, and with the courts still stacked with Bush appointees, a risky one. An immigration attorney named David Isaacs wrote a lengthy analysis of whether the law is unconstitutional. It included this observation:

Among other things, the law appears to bar refugees fleeing political persecution from Alabama’s public universities; make it illegal to provide housing or transportation to someone so that they can attend a proceeding at which the federal government has specifically demanded they be present; and generally attempt to rewrite the Immigration and Nationality Act….

Isaacs goes on to comment that the law actually deprives immigrants of guaranteed rights that should be protected until they have had the time to have their status reviewed by federal authorities. And states do not have the right to amend federal laws.

Governor Bentley has no qualms about HB-56, as he crowed to the press that the new law was a “jobs creation bill for Americans. This will put thousands of Alabamians back in the work force.” There are currently an estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants in Alabama. Most of them pick tomatoes in Alabama’s ghastly summer heat or work in chicken processing plants. It will be interesting to see how many native-born Alabama residents line up for those jobs once they’re vacated. In the meantime, a shortage of workers at harvest time could deep-six Alabama’s already sinking agricultural economy.

A reader of the Birmingham News wrote to the paper’s editor shortly after the law was passed, reporting that Latino friends of hers had already been harassed—both by residents and the police. The harassers clearly felt that that the new law empowered them in their bigotry toward minorities. One instance involved the police, who stopped a Latino man and demanded “to see his papers.” This, the letter writer noted, despite the fact that the law doesn’t even go into effect until September 1.

And an Alabama legislator named Mo Brooks is obviously feeling empowered as well. This week, Brooks stated, “I will do anything short of shooting them [undocumented immigrants]. Anything that is lawful, it needs to be done because illegal aliens need to quit taking jobs from American citizens.” Brooks also said that undocumented workers have “victimized” Americans by their very existence in the state.

Will HB-56 become the new gold standard as state after state attempts to adopt these racist laws? It seems likely that, unless the law is successfully challenged in the federal courts, states will follow the Alabama example. They will push the envelope as far as they can, using the economy as an excuse to justify an ongoing witch hunt against immigrants and minority workers.


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