03/10/2011

Alabama Cannot Afford to Follow in the Footsteps of Arizona

Today, concerned citizens will gather at the Alabama State House to oppose harsh, anti-immigrant legislation that will likely cost Alabama millions of tax dollars and sow fear and discord across the state.

Alabama’s legislature is currently considering legislation modeled on Arizona’s anti-immigrant statue that resulted in boycotts of that state. It also incorporates laws struck down in Farmers Branch, Texas. This legislation, which is opposed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, would allow law enforcement officers to ask for proof of immigration status during traffic stops and make it illegal to knowingly transport an undocumented immigrant within the state.

Alabama cannot afford to follow in the footsteps of Arizona and Farmers Branch.

There is little doubt Alabamians will be footing the bill for this ill-advised statute. It will reach into every Alabamian’s wallet to pay for its huge financial cost. We only need to look to Arizona, which is facing a costly legal fight over its statute. A tourism boycott is believed to have already cost Arizona $141 million.

Yet, somehow Alabama lawmakers pushing this bill believe things will be different here.

They're wrong.

No one knows how much it will cost the state to defend these laws in court. And no one knows how many millions it will cost Alabama cities and counties to enforce these laws. But other states have projected costs for similar legislation will cost tens of millions of dollars per year.

When similar legislation was introduced in Kentucky, it was put on hold when a fiscal note showed it would cost $40 to $80 million to implement. Colorado abandoned similar legislation because of the costs and expected litigation expenses. Florida legislators have said they are backing away from similar provisions for the same reasons.

Alabama’s governor is already making tough budget cuts to deal with some of the hardest economic times the state has seen in recent memory. We cannot afford this law.

But there’s an even greater cost to consider. Across the country, communities have passed strict anti-immigrant laws only to see them inflame racial tensions, harm businesses and spread fear.

Too often, these ill-advised laws cause immigrants – regardless of their immigration status – to regard the police with suspicion. They become less likely to report crime and criminals often start targeting these communities.

This legislation also comes on the heels of an Alabama state senator saying that politicians need to “empty the clip, and do what has to be done” to control illegal immigration. Though he denied advocating violence, the rhetoric is simply too hot, the atmosphere too toxic and the cost too high for this legislation.

Alabama is the birthplace of the civil rights movement. It has grown its economy through hospitality and an openness that has welcomed businesses from all over the world. We shouldn’t expect to build a better future with laws that sow fear and discord.

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