12/14/2011

Court Cites Discriminatory Intent Behind Alabama's Anti-Immigrant Law

The most damning proof that Alabama’s anti-immigrant law was born of xenophobia and vile stereotypes comes straight from the mouths of the lawmakers behind it.

This week, a federal judge issued a blistering court ruling that took the lawmakers to task. The judge didn’t rely on arcane legal arguments or theory. Instead, he used the on-the-record comments made by lawmakers as they passed the nation’s most draconian anti-immigrant bill, HB 56.

In a Dec. 12 ruling regarding a provision of the law, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson described the legislative debate as “laced with derogatory comments about Hispanics.” He even went as far to say that it’s likely the entire law was “discriminatorily based.” Over the course of the 108-page ruling, Thompson cited examples of lawmakers delving into ethnic stereotypes and using “Hispanic” and “illegal immigrant” interchangeably.

“This use is dramatically reflected in how HB 56’s drafter, Representative [Micky] Hammon, conflated race and immigration status,” Thompson wrote.

The most telling example is Hammon’s claim that Alabama was home to the second fastest growing population of undocumented immigrants in the nation. The claim was repeatedly cited by Hammon as he pushed the bill through the legislature. It sounded as if the state were facing a major crisis.

There was just one problem.

When a reporter asked Hammon for the source of his information, the legislator produced an article that showed the growth of the state’s Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010. The article “says nothing about unauthorized immigration whatsoever,” the judge wrote in his ruling.

But Hammon wasn’t the only offender.

The judge noted that when Rep. Kerry Rich – a co-sponsor of the law – discussed the growth of the undocumented immigrant population, he also used Hispanic population figures. Apparently for Hammon and other legislators, there is a part of “illegal” they don’t understand – it’s not a synonym for all Latinos.

When legislative debate includes talk about seeing 30 undocumented immigrants get out of a car or visiting a poultry plant and seeing “4-foot Mexicans in there catching them chickens” – two examples cited by the judge – it’s understandable that Latinos may worry about racial profiling.

And it’s understandable how the law produced in that environment can be a disaster for the state and wreak havoc in people’s lives.

Thompson’s ruling came in a Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit challenging a provision of HB 56 that required people to prove their legal status when renewing their annual mobile home registration tags. The judge’s preliminary injunction temporarily prevents families from being pushed into the streets.

But despite court orders blocking various provisions, much of HB 56 remains in effect. And nothing changes the fact that lawmakers passed a shameful immigration law amid a debate rife with stereotypes, misinformation and bigotry – once again reminding the world of Alabama’s racist history.

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