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HB 56 Hurts Alabama's Economy More than it Helps

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Originally printed in The Birmingham News on October 9, 2011

In all the debate surrounding Alabama's new immigration law, no one debates that it is the toughest in the nation. With Alabamian unemployment flirting with 10 percent and poverty nearly 17 percent, is preventing children brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents from learning to read really worth the economic havoc?

The law makes it illegal to be illegal in the state of Alabama, which seems a bit like legislative overkill, but the sponsors of HB 56 seem to believe the federal government has failed in its duties.

Recently, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn gave her ruling on the constitutionality of the law. She first issued a temporary injunction in August to give her more time to wade through the complex legal arguments in the case, and the ruling came on her last day of review. Her ruling kept many elements of the law but she temporarily enjoined others.

Forcing schools to check the immigration status of children and their parents will remain. Now, as America's schools continue to fail, additional time, energy and resources will now be spent on ripping families apart instead of instruction.

Blackburn maintained the clause preventing courts from enforcing contracts with an illegal immigrant; this clause will continue to perpetuate stagnation in the state's economy. In order to hire a contractor to fix your roof, you will need to ensure the contractor is a citizen or has the appropriate visa. If the contractor were an illegal immigrant, homeowners would have no recourse for breach of contract. On the brink of a potential double-dip recession, why is Alabama's Legislature limiting small business contracting?

The most controversial element allows police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest, however, HB 56's framers never funded this mandate. Photographs from Ben Flanagan's dispatch from the University of Alabama showed students holding signs asking "Am I White Enough for Reasonable Suspicion?"

The students have a valid question: Would an illegal Eastern European immigrant be as likely to have his status checked as an American citizen of Hispanic descent?

Blackburn's injunctions are based on the arguments from the U.S. Justice Department; she ruled federal immigration policy overruled state law. HB 56's sponsors have been critical of the Obama administration while he has taken criticism from the left for his tough I-9 employment enforcement.

Blackburn also enjoined the provision regarding illegal students attending public colleges. In Texas, ultra-conservative Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry gave this right to illegal immigrants brought here by no fault of their own.

Blackburn also enjoined the "transport" clause opposed by the Justice Department and Archbishop of Birmingham, Thomas Rodi, and Bishops Henry Parsley (Episcopal), Robert Baker (Roman Catholic, Mobile) and William Willimon (United Methodist) joined the federal government over the "transport" clause. Without Blackburn's ruling, giving your neighbor a ride to work or Bible study would be a crime. In a state that has seen so much recent devastation, is turning neighbor on neighbor a positive end?

The law's framers have been successful in pushing illegal immigrants out of Alabama, but to Alabama's economic dismay, especially her farmers.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan calls the legislation "a pretty big overreach" and openly wonders, "How are we going to rebuild Tuscaloosa without roofers and construction workers."


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James Lewis is a former Senior Policy/National Security Analyst at the Washington-based think-tank, Robert Weiner Associates. He has also worked for Student Conservation Association as a Crew Leader engaging low-income urban students in a summer (more...)
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