Immigration bill passed by Reps

William Evans

Representatives in the Alabama Legislature approved a bill that would prohibit employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and require state and local law enforcement to carry out federal immigration laws.

In March, the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee approved House Bill 56, authored by Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, which echoes controversial provisions contained in the state of Arizona’s immigration bill, which has received a preliminary injunction from a federal judge that prevents its enforcement.

If the bill passes the Alabama Senate and is signed by Gov. Robert Bentley, it will become law.

Tuscaloosa’s John Merrill also cosponsored the bill.

The bill contains punitive measures that would revoke the business licenses of employers that knowingly hire illegal immigrants and would also make it a felony for illegal immigrants to register to vote. Also, local law enforcement officers are allowed to request proof of immigration status during stops for traffic violations if there is reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal immigrant.

Like the Arizona immigration law, the content of Hammon’s bill will likely be challenged in court, said William Stewart, professor emeritus of political science.

The expense of upholding the legislation in court will add a burden on the state to defend an issue that should be addressed on the national rather than the local level, he said.

“I don’t think the local law enforcement will have the resources to carry out the requirements of the legislation, given the budget limitations,” he said. “The subject should be dealt with on a national level.”

Issues such as unemployment and the ailing job market are more pertinent to the quality of life in Alabama and deserve the attention of the state’s legislators, he said.

“I don’t think illegal immigration is one of the major issues the Alabama Legislature should be focusing on right now,” he said.

According to the bill, employers would be obliged to verify the work eligibility of each new hire by electronically submitting workers’ I-9 forms, the paper-based form presently used to verify work eligibility, into a system known as E-Verify.

E-Verify compares the submitted I-9 form with the millions of records contained in the databases of the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to inform the employer if the I-9 form has a match.

Removing unauthorized workers from Alabama’s job market would hurt the economy, said Caitlin Sandley, organizing and education coordinator of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, in an emailed statement.

“The real issue is what the removal of all unauthorized workers in Alabama would do to our state,” she said. “The Immigration Policy Center reports that if all unauthorized workers were removed from Alabama, ‘the state would lose $2.6 billion in economic activity, $1.1 billion in gross state product, and approximately 17,819 jobs.’”

Also, local law enforcement should not be burdened with verifying immigration status, she said.

Besides deterring immigrant victims and witnesses from contributing to police investigations, the mandate would overtax local law enforcement, she said.

“Local law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources or capacity to take on these new tasks,” she said. “Numerous sheriffs and police chiefs, across the country and in Alabama, have come out against this type of mandate simply because they don’t have the funds to train officers in the complexities of immigration law nor the space to house a huge influx of immigrants in local jails.”