Yesterday, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed HB 56, a draconian law that takes immigration enforcement far beyond Arizona’s SB 1070. This makes Arizona the strictest state to-date, as the effort to regulate immigration drops from the federal to state level in the new game of "U.S. immigration poker."
While Alabama's new law mimics SB 1070 by requiring local law enforcement to verify peoples’ immigration status during a stop, it also hits new lows. It forces public schools to make students and their parents provide proof of legal status, turning school administrators into immigration officers. [And violating federal law!] The law also contains a broadly defined provision making it a crime to knowingly rent to, transport, or harbor unauthorized immigrants, as well as requiring employers to use E-verify. Alabama now joins Arizona, Utah, Indiana, and Georgia in passing costly immigration enforcement laws.
To make matters worse, Governor Bentley, much like Governor Deal in neighboring Georgia, is turning a blind eye to the state’s $586 million FY2011 budget shortfall—a deficit that is bound to grow in light of this costly enforcement law. Yesterday, the ACLU and several civil rights groups announced a forthcoming legal challenge to Alabama’s immigration law. To date, Arizona has already spent $1.9 million defending its law, key provisions of which were blocked by a federal judge, not to mention the millions Arizona has already lost in cancelled conferences and tourism revenue.
Arizona has demonstrated that using a “get tough” immigration law to drive unauthorized immigrants out of the state is not only costly, discriminatory, and unconstitutional; it also does nothing to actually solve our larger immigration problems. In its lawsuit challenging Arizona's SB1070 the federal government rightly asserted its authority over national immigration policy.
What continues to be missing is Congressional action. Until Congress acts to fulfill its constitutional role in creating a functional immigration system, states will continue to look for ways to fill the leadership vacuum.
When will Congress step up to the plate? All bets are off on that one.