On June 9, 2011, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed a new immigration law, which is being described as the harshest law in the nation and criticized as bigoted and discriminatory. The new law requires police officers to check individuals’ immigration status during traffic stops if they suspect them to be undocumented immigrants and imposes mandates on schools and employers to track the immigration status of their students and employees. Effective September 1, 2011, it will be illegal in Alabama to knowingly give a ride or shelter to an unauthorized immigrant.
Several religious denominations, including the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Roman Catholic Church, have come out in opposition to the bill and have specifically complained that making it illegal to provide shelter, support, and aid to someone in a time of crisis undermines the mandate and obligations of people of faith.
Many of the provisions in Alabama’s statute were copied from immigration legislation recently passed in Arizona, although Alabama’s law goes even further than the Arizona law by requiring schools and employers to track and verify immigration status. Implementation of Arizona’s immigration law has been on hold since last July, when an Arizona judge ruled for the United States Department of Justice in its lawsuit against the state for interfering with the federal government’s immigration policy.
The court’s decision that the law violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, which reserves exclusively for the federal government the right to regulate immigration, was affirmed by a federal appeals court in April. Arizona’s governor has announced the state will now appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
Alabama legislators who advocated for the new law argued it would put jobs back in the hands of legal residents. State Representative Micky Hammon, sponsor of the law, told the New York Times, “This is a job-creation bill for Americans. We really want to prevent illegal immigrants from coming to Alabama and prevent those who are here from putting down roots.”
This and other justifications for anti-immigrant legislation apply minimally, if at all, in a non-border state like Alabama, which has an undocumented immigrant popluation that is roughly one-fifth the size of Arizona’s. A 2010 report by the Pew Hispanic Center found that unauthorized immigrants account for only 4.2% of Alabama’s labor force.
Legislation meant to save money by refusing medical and educational services to immigrants and their children has proven extremely costly in Arizona, where the state has spent millions unsuccessfully defending the law in court. Two weeks after Georgia’s governor enacted a similar law, a coalition of civil rights organizations filed suit. Observers expect that court challenges to Alabama’s law will be filed this summer.
Many anticipate that Alabama’s law will promote racial profiling by police and increase overcrowding in packed jails as local agencies wait for federal regulators to verify arrestees’ immigration status. Some have observed that given Alabama’s history of racial subordination, segregation, and legal discrimination, the bill is bad for business and for improving the state’s economic opportunities. The law’s unfunded mandates on schools and employers to undertake expensive tracking and verification procedures for students and new employees come at a time of unprecedented cuts in funding for Alabama schools and soaring unemployment across the state, raising concerns that the immigration law ultimately will cost Alabamians jobs and divert dwindling public funds away from education and public safety.