HB 56 has created a humanitarian crisis in Alabama.

Under the provisions currently in effect, undocumented persons are unable to interact with the government in any way and for any purpose. It has turned a significant class of people, effectively, into non-persons, subjecting them to a kind of legal exile. It has destroyed lives, ripped apart families, devastated communities and delivered a body blow to an already struggling economy.

There is no fixing this law. It does not need to be re-written or tweaked at the margins, as some Alabama legislators have suggested.

It should be repealed.

Other states hoping to emulate Alabama should consider its devastating economic consequences. In recent years, Alabama has attracted significant foreign investors; now the state is garnering headlines for the arrests of foreign automobile company employees who have every right to be here.

Farmworkers—regardless of immigration status—have fled the state rather than live under HB 56. Crops have been left rotting in the fields, causing farmers to lose millions.

Immigration must be a federal issue. It is simply untenable to have 50 different immigration policies across the country. The nation must speak with one voice on this issue.

Frustration with Congress’ failure to reform the nation’s immigration policy is not sufficient reason for states to create a patchwork of policies that throw lives into disarray and sow fear, bigotry and confusion in communities. State legislators must recognize the impact is simply too high of a price to pay to make a political point.

The SPLC has been heartened by the response of the federal government to HB 56, particularly that of the Department of Justice, which has challenged the law in federal court.

However, another federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security, has played a deeply troubling role in enabling HB 56 to funnel Alabama’s immigrants into deportation proceedings.

Though Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has stated that her agency will not help Alabama implement HB 56, we have yet to hear specifics about what that means. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has conducted raids and other enforcement actions in Alabama that have terrorized immigrant communities and threatened to trample their civil rights.

This was vividly illustrated in December 2011, when armed ICE agents raided apartment complexes and mobile home parks in Fort Payne and Collinsville, entering homes without permission and even interrogating young children about their parents’ whereabouts. ICE also continues to detain and deport people as a result of HB 56—a law the Department of Justice has decried as unconstitutional.

The result is a contradictory message from the federal government that has pledged to protect the civil rights of the immigrant community but at the same time engages in activities that threaten to violate those same rights. These enforcement actions by ICE must cease.

HB 56 is a self-inflicted wound—the product of short-sighted lawmakers unable to see beyond the most immediate political opportunity. Though the impact of similar anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Georgia clearly foreshadowed its legal and economic fallout, HB 56 was passed with little regard for the hardships those states have experienced.

The result is a crisis that harkens back to the bleakest days of Alabama’s racial history. It is a crisis that could have been avoided—one that certainly must end now.

Photo by Sarah P. Reynolds