Last week, Federal District Judge Sharon Blackburn declined to strike 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 state and local police to demand proof of immigration or citizenship status if “a reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the country illegally. Other provisions threaten children’s access to schools by requiring elementary and secondary school officials to verify the immigration status of children and their parents. School principals and superintendents across the state report that school attendance of Latino children has dropped noticeably since the law went into effect last Thursday.
Immigration has become a contentious issue in Alabama over the 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 to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Supporters of HB 56 claim the law will reduce crime and help alleviate the state’s economic problems. However, both justifications are unfounded and flawed. The violent crime rate has dropped by more than a third over the last decade despite the expanding immigrant community. Indeed, arguments that immigrants pose a security threat have never had any credible foundation.
In addition, it costs state agencies considerable resources to implement and defend the law. By spending more time on basic traffic stops and potential court appearances, fiscally-strapped law enforcement agencies devote less to protecting Alabama communities from real harm.
Alabama agriculture is also suffering. Tomato and squash growers have complained that their crops are rotting in the field, and they are at risk of losing their farms as a result of HB 56, which has scared off many migrant farm workers typically employed during the autumn harvest. Similarly, contractors working to rebuild infrastructure after massive tornados ripped through the state last spring now expect delays due to the difficulty of finding workers to lay roofs and pour foundations.
In a state with a deep and complicated civil rights history, HB 56 is all too familiar. By reestablishing barriers to education and mandating racial profiling, Alabama has revived the hostile, racist laws it supposedly put in its past. The Department of Justice already announced its intention to appeal the decision to the Eleventh Circuit, and it remains to be seen whether the injurious provisions of the law will hold up.