Last week, Federal District Judge Sharon Blackburn declined tostrike down major portions of Alabama’s extreme anti-immigrant law, HB 56, makingAlabama the state with the strictest immigration laws in the country.
Among other alarming provisions is one that requires stateand local police to demand proof of immigration or citizenship status if “areasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the country illegally. Otherprovisions threaten children’s access to schools by requiring elementary andsecondary school officials to verify the immigration status of children andtheir parents. School principals and superintendents across the state reportthat school attendance of Latino children has dropped noticeably since the law wentinto effect last Thursday.
Immigration has become a contentious issue in Alabama overthe last decade, during which the Latino population has grown from 25,000 to120,000. Despite this jump, the group only represents 4% of the population.Still, Republican lawmakers in Alabama have been looking for an opportunity tocrack down on undocumented immigrants.
Supporters of HB 56 claim the law will reduce crime and helpalleviate the state’s economic problems. However, both justifications areunfounded and flawed. The violent crime rate has dropped by more than a third overthe last decade despite the expanding immigrant community. Indeed, argumentsthat immigrants pose a security threat have never had any credible foundation.
In addition, it costs state agenciesconsiderable resources to implement and defend the law. By spending more timeon basic traffic stops and potential court appearances, fiscally-strapped lawenforcement agencies devote less to protecting Alabama communities from realharm.
Alabama agriculture is also suffering. Tomato and squash growers have complainedthat their crops are rotting in the field, and they are at risk of losing theirfarms as a result of HB 56, which has scared off many migrant farmworkerstypically employed during the autumn harvest. Similarly, contractors working torebuild infrastructure after massive tornados ripped through the state lastspring now expect delays due to the difficulty of finding workers to lay roofsand pour foundations.
In a state with a deep and complicated civil rights history,HB 56 is all too familiar. By reestablishing barriers to education andmandating racial profiling, Alabama has revived the hostile, racist laws itsupposedly put in its past. The Department of Justice already announced itsintention to appeal the decision to the Eleventh Circuit, and it remainsto be seen whether the injurious provisions of the law will hold up.