Alabama has joined the growing number of states fed up with the federal government’s perceived inability, or blatant unwillingness, to enforce its own immigration laws.
Following in the steps of Arizona, Indiana, Georgia and Utah, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed HB56 on June 9. The law is being considered one of the most stringent state anti-illegal immigration laws to date. Already drawing heat from such civil groups as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Southern Poverty Law Center, Bentley nonetheless said he believed the legislation can stand up against legal opposition. (souce: WashingtonTimes online version)
Asserting that illegal immigration causes “economic hardship and lawlessness in this state”, the Alabama law addresses a “compelling public interest to discourage illegal immigration”. When public agencies provide benefits without determining legal immigration status of recipients, the lawmakers assert, they further encourage more foreign nationals to enter to the United States illegally.
Alabama’s new measures go beyond the controversial legislation introduced by Arizona’s SB1070 last year. In light of other similar laws being challenged by judicial overthrow, lawmakers said they wrote the legislation in language that would protect the entirety from being thrown out if singular items are ruled unconstitutional or contrary to federal law.
The law relates to nearly every facet of daily life, from employment to education to housing, including some of the following measures that will take effect Sept. 1.
Law enforcement provisions:
- Gives police officers authority to detain suspected illegal aliens if they’re stopped for another reason.
- The law presumes an alien with a valid, unexpired Alabama driver’s license, non-driver identification card, or several other recognized documents (listed within the law), to be legally present in the United States.
- Requires schools to determine the citizenship and immigration status of students.
- Requires school districts to “compile certain data” for report to the State Board of Education, to get an accurate number of unlawfully present aliens are enrolled, and thereby determine how much of state educational resources used for unlawful aliens.
- Prohibits unlawful aliens from enrolling in post-secondary educational facilities, or from receiving financial benefits for post-secondary education.
- Prohibits unlawful aliens from receiving any state of local public benefits (with certain exceptions);
- Prohibits eligibility for educational benefits that are based on residence.
The law also makes criminal the following:
- Knowingly renting to someone who is in the country illegally.
- Concealing, harboring, or shielding unauthorized aliens or attempting to do so;
- Encouraging or inducing someone to enter or reside in the United States illegally.
- Transporting, or attempting or conspiring to transport an unlawfully present alien in Alabama; also, conspiring to be transported if illegally present in the U.S.;
- Dealing in false identification documents or committing vital records identity fraud;
- Voters must show picture identification.
Several of the law’s aspects relate to employment.
- Employers are required to determine eligibility status of prospective employees by using the E-Verify federal employment-check system before hiring.
- Employers are prohibited from knowingly employing anyone in the country unlawfully.
- Employers are prohibited from firing or not hiring a qualified legal candidate for a position while retaining an unauthorized alien, under certain conditions.
While Alabama has taken a hard line to discourage illegal immigration, there are several exceptions written into the law to ensure protection of unlawful aliens from bodily harm or threat or neglect, especially regarding children.
Emergency medical treatment cannot be withheld, and legal status is not required to provide primary and secondary education. Also exempt are those acting in official capacity as first responders, emergency personnel or protective services provider, who may transport, harbor or shelter an illegal alien.
The law also exempts:
- Short-term, non-cash emergency disaster relief;
- Public health assistance for immunizations, prenatal care, supplemental nutritional services for Women, Infants and Children (WIC);
- Soup kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention, and several community-level in-kind services;
- Child or adult protective services, domestic violence services and any services ‘necessary for the protection of life and safety.’
Southern Poverty Law Center’s director Mary Bauer called Alabama’s restrictions ‘unconstitutional, mean-spirited, and racist’ (source: Washington Times), but the American public remains supportive of tougher border controls, according to a February 2011 report by Pew Research Center. Of those polled, 77 percent put priority on tighter border security, though 42 percent of those also wanted stricter enforcement of existing immigration laws. Thirty-five percent wanted focus on secure borders, while creating a pathway to citizenship. Only 21 percent thought creating a path to citizenship should hold top priority.
If neighboring Georgia is any indication, Alabama’s new law may indeed have the intended effect. Georgia has already begun to see a departure of illegal immigrants after passing similar legislation earlier, according to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, despite the fact that their House Bill 87 isn’t due for enforcement until July 1. Pew Research’s Hispanic Center estimates nearly half a million illegal immigrants reside in Georgia, putting the state in the top ten for number of unlawfully-present immigrants.
Also scheduled to come into effect July 1 is Indiana’s SEA590. Passed by a wide margin in both the state’s House and Senate, the bill was signed into law May 10 by Gov. Daniels, and hit with an ACLU lawsuit soon after. By targeting businesses to verify lawful presence of employees, the law aims to reduce the economic incentive for illegal immigrants to choose Indiana. The state can also sue businesses to recover unemployment benefits paid to illegal workers.
Utah’s HB497 has been placed on hold by a federal judge, the Deseret News reported earlier this week. That law is the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and National Immigration Law Center. The Mexican government, followed by several other Central and South American nations have condemned the law, citing “potential international fallout” if Utah moves forward with enforcing their illegal immigration legislation.
Oklahoma and Virginia have also promoted tougher laws on illegal immigration, and are not likely the last.
A 2011 report by the Department of Homeland Security estimated there were 10.8 unauthorized aliens living in the U.S. as of January 2010. Slightly more than 60 percent were from Mexico alone, and 39 percent had entered the nation between 2000 and 2010. The number of illegal immigrants rose 27 percent during that period, the report said.