Alabama Misses Opportunity to Abandon Punitive Immigration Law

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Alabama H.B. 56 is considered the most punitive state immigration law in the nation.After signing into law HB 56, the toughest state immigration enforcement law, Alabama had an opportunity to respond to the concerns of the faith community, civil rights groups, business leaders, and the agricultural sector  by abandoning it. However, instead of scrapping the punitive law, last week Governor Bentley signed into law a bill that made only minor tweaks to HB 56.

As originally passed in June 2011, HB 56 imposes significant restrictions on undocumented immigrants in Alabama. Like Arizona’s SB 1070 , which the Department of Justice believes is unconstitutional, HB 56 requires law enforcement to determine a person’s immigration status when they have reasonable suspicion that a person is present in the United States illegally. Alabama’s 2011 law goes a number of steps further and mandates public school officials to report on the immigration status of their students, It also prohibits the state from entering into any contracts with undocumented immigrants.

Amid the backlash from Alabamians, state legislators decided to amend the law. Rather than remove some of the most harmful provisions of the bill, the new law clarifies the kind of documents that are forms of official identification, reduces the penalties subcontractors face for unknowingly hiring undocumented workers, and exempts religious leaders from punishment for aiding undocumented immigrants.

During the process of amending HB 56, Alabama Governor Bentley expressed two concerns:

  • He wanted the legislature to revise the provision in HB 56 that requires school officials to report on the immigration status of enrolling students.
  • He asked the legislature to revise the provision in the draft bill that would require the state to create a database with the names of undocumented immigrants detained by law enforcement, the names of the judges who presided over the case, and the result of the court case.

The state legislature ignored Governor Bentley’s concerns and sent legislation to his desk for his signature. Instead of rejecting the bill and sending the bill back for further revisions, the governor signed the new bill into law.

When we learned that Alabama would be reforming HB 56, LIRS was pleased, because we have been raising concerns about this law since it passed in June 2011. However, these new changes simply do not go far enough. In fact, the new law now requires a database  that will intimidate local judges and instill even more fear in the immigrant community.

Alabama’s punitive immigration laws should be repealed. Visit LIRS’s Action Center to fight for fair and humane federal immigration reform and speak up against harsh state anti-immigrant legislation!

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