Alabama Governor Signs Immigration Bill into Law
Governor Robert Bentley signed HB 56 into law last Thursday, making Alabama the fourth state to pass tough new immigration legislation. Civil and immigrant rights organizations are preparing to file a lawsuit blocking it from going into effect on September 1, as planned.
Alabama’s law, which was modeled after Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, outlines provisions that:
- require local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of individuals stopped for traffic violations in some instances
- require public schools to determine student immigration status
- mandate that employers use E-Verify to check worker immigration status
- make it a crime to knowingly rent to, transport or harbor undocumented immigrants
What makes Alabama’s law broader and tougher than Arizona’s is the provision that calls for schools to check children’s documentation. Gov. Bentley stated that this provision is intended to collect data on the number of illegal immigrants attending public schools. Proponents say this will also help determine the amount of public money being spent on educating undocumented children.
The fear among critics, however, is that this provision will negatively impact immigrant school enrollment. If parents are required to provide proof of citizenship, they may choose not to enroll their children in school rather than chance being arrested because of their immigration status.
Fear is also being expressed by school officials. They believe that this provision would involve them in ensuing legal battles resulting from their role in enforcing state immigration policies, which should not have been their responsibility in the first place.
Opponents point to other injurious effects that may occur upon enforcing this law in Alabama. Muzaffar Chishti, director of the NYU Law School Migration Policy Institute, believes that having local law enforcement officers check immigration status can threaten relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities. The law is also seen as a threat to progress made on civil rights and race relations in Alabama.
Within hours of the law’s passage, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement announcing their intention to file a suit challenging the law’s constitutionality. Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, called the key provisions of the law discriminatory, unconstitutional and a “throw-back to the pre-Civil Rights era.”
The different provisions give insight into the differing goals of immigration enforcement between Arizona andAlabama. Where Arizona wants to stop drug cartels, Alabama wants to make sure individuals who are in the state illegally do not use state benefits. Opponents contend that the provisions of the Alabama law are designed to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state.
Gov. Bentley, who campaigned on a platform that included immigration enforcement policy, said he believes the provisions can survive legal challenges. Alabama house sponsor, Republican Rep. Micky Hammon, said the bill was written in a way that if part of it is found unconstitutional or in violation of federal law, the rest can stand.
According to the 2010 U.S. census, close to 186,000 people—roughly 3.9 percent of Alabama’s 4.8 million residents—identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino. However, estimates put the number of additional undocumented immigrants at 120,000.