05/30/2012

Alabama’s Anti-Immigrant Law a Cautionary Tale for Other States

Alabama lawmakers just can’t help themselves.

When the legislature convened this year, its members had an opportunity to repair the damage the state’s harsh anti-immigrant law had inflicted across Alabama.

Promises were made. Changes were supposedly in the works.

Yet when the legislative session ended, the state had an even more extreme law – a law certain to give Alabama another black eye and cement its reputation for xenophobia. At a time when other states are abandoning efforts to pass harsh anti-immigrant laws, Alabama stubbornly refused and actually made its law worse.

Astoundingly, state Sen. Scott Beason, a sponsor of the state’s original anti-immigrant law, hijacked the “reform” efforts. Of course, once your reform efforts are being led by someone who has spoken about the need to “empty the clip” on illegal immigrants and has referred to African-Americans as “aborigines,” it’s reform in name only.

It was a remarkable failure by the governor and Alabama’s lawmakers to rein in the legislature’s most extreme members.

It will cost the state dearly.

Small businesses and farms will continue to suffer under the burdens of this law. Fears of racial profiling and harassment will continue to spread throughout the state. And taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for legislators to actually fix this law.

One of the worst provisions of the new anti-immigrant law is a requirement for the state “to post a quarterly list of the names of any undocumented alien who appears in court for a violation of state law, regardless of whether they were convicted.” This “scarlet letter” is nothing more than an attempt to bully and intimidate. Even Gov. Robert Bentley voiced concerns about it being “a public relations problem” that he wanted removed.

The governor also voiced concerns about keeping a provision that turned school administrators and teachers into immigration officers by requiring them to interrogate school children about their immigration status and the status of their parents. Nevertheless, Bentley signed the bill into law – “public relations problem” and all.

Quite simply, the governor and legislators kicked the can down the road.

They have chosen not only to ignore the pain being felt across Alabama, but to put the state at risk for more lawsuits. The Southern Poverty Law Center already has begun to take legal action to address the new problems lawmakers have created. We will challenge any new unconstitutional provisions.

As we continue this fight, residents in other states need to keep their eyes on Alabama. This past legislative session has shown how lawmakers can hijack the legislative process and make a bad law even worse.

It’s a scenario that could play out in legislatures across the country once the U.S. Supreme Court issues its decision regarding Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, which has served as a blueprint for others. The court’s decision, expected in June, could embolden state lawmakers to push even more extreme laws.

Yes, the SPLC will continue to fight these laws across the South, but residents of any state can help stop anti-immigrant laws from ever taking effect by telling their lawmakers to stand up to extreme lawmakers pushing anti-immigrant laws that will damage their state.

No state can afford to follow Alabama’s example.