Alabama passes nation’s most extreme anti-immigrant measure

Alabama’s Republican Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law a major crackdown on immigration Thursday, June 9, that both supporters and opponents are calling the nations toughest anti-immigrant legislation to date.

The new law, which critics say is worse than Arizona’s SB 1070, mandates that police investigate and detain anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” that is living in the country without proper documentation. It explicitly forbids undocumented immigrants from accessing any public benefits. It also mandates the state to enforce the federal E-Verify system, which opponents say is inherently flawed. The law aims to impose penalties on businesses that knowingly employ undocumented immigrants. A company’s business license could be suspended or revoked.

Under the new law it would be a crime to knowingly transport or harbor undocumented immigrants. It forbids landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants. Primary and secondary schools will be required to verify the immigration status of students and parents, who will be forced to provide an affidavit to school officials. The law also bars undocumented immigrant students from enrolling in any of Alabama’s public colleges and universities.

Critics note the new law in effect criminalizes every aspect of life for undocumented immigrants. The law contains nearly every major anti-immigrant provision that localities and states have attempted to pass in the last few years.

Civil and immigrant rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center plan to challenge the law.

“Alabama is the first place of the civil rights movement,” said Sam Brooke, a staff attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, to Color Lines. “We have been at the forefront of advancing civil rights for the past couple of decades and this is a huge step backward.”

Cecillia Wang, director of the immigrants’ rights project with the ACLU told the New York Times the law is “outrageous and blatantly unconstitutional.” She added, “it invites discrimination into every aspect of the lives of people in Alabama.”

Opponents charge the law is extreme and a shameful throwback to the pre-civil rights era.

Jared Shepherd, Law Fellow with the Alabama ACLU told the Associated Press, “This law undermines our core American values of fairness and equality and will make the rampant racial profiling of Latinos that is already going on in Alabama that much worse, threatening the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike. Requiring police to demand papers from people on the street is a tactic commonly associated with totalitarian regimes, not robust democracies.”

Shepherd notes the law “threatens the safety and security of all Alabama by diverting already limited resources from law enforcement’s primary responsibility to provide protection and promote public safety in the community. This ill-conceived law sends a clear message to communities that the authorities are not to be trusted, making them less likely to come forward as victims or witnesses to crime.”

Republicans in Alabama have been trying to pass anti-immigrant bills for years, critics note. The GOP took over the majority control of both chambers in Alabama’s state legislature last year for the first time in 136 years. The new law recently passed in both chambers by large margins.

Alabama is the latest state to follow the lead of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which was passed and signed into law last year. The courts blocked major provisions of that law including allowing police to check the immigration status of people.

However immigrants rights groups in Arizona suffered a huge blow last week after the Supreme Court upheld a 2007 law allowing the state to make employers use the E-Verify system. That law would also impose penalties on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. This provision is part of the new Alabama law.

Immigrant rights advocates have sued Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia to block anti-immigrant measures from going into effect.

Enforcement only measures have failed in 16 states, according to a tally by the National Immigration Forum in Washington, a group that opposes such laws.

Photo: Pepe Lozano/PW.






Pepe Lozano
Pepe Lozano

Chicagoan Pepe Lozano was a staff writer with the People's World through 2014. He comes from an activist family and has lived on the city's southwest side in a predominantly Mexican-American community his whole life. Lozano now works as a union organizer.