Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Immigration law a violation of trust

Alabama has made plenty of national news over the past two weeks, and not just because the University’s football team has garnered a likely position in the BCS National Championship. Since Nov. 16, the state has received extensive publicity after the Tuscaloosa police arrested a 46-year-old German Mercedes-Benz executive visiting Alabama on business. The cause? The man’s rental car didn’t have a license plate, and he did not have the proper documentation required by Alabama’s new illegal immigration law.

“If it were not for the immigration law, a person without a license in their possession wouldn’t be arrested like this,” Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steven Anderson told the Associated Press. Like other states, before the immigration law passed Alabama simply issued a court summons and a ticket to individuals found driving without a license.

But now that we have adopted the toughest law against illegal immigration in the country, arrests like this one are sure to become more common.

This isn’t the fault of the police. They are just doing their jobs and enforcing the law. This is the fault of the lawmakers who drafted, passed, and signed this bill, imposing a massive new burden on state workers, business owners, visitors and immigrants.

The Birmingham News has reported that state agencies are now dealing with cumbersome paperwork as a result of the law, and long waits have formed for residents tending to business at courthouses across Alabama.

These inconveniences transcend racial barriers and citizenship status; we all suffer from longer lines, from more paperwork and from the unintended consequences of turning our business owners and state employees into immigration enforcement officers.

A lot of people drive without their license at some point, if only accidentally. Would average citizens be arrested if the police pulled them over and discovered they were driving without a license?

That is unlikely, but possible. The law states that law enforcement officers should only make an attempt to verify a suspect’s immigration status “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”

In other words, if the suspect is foreign or looks foreign. That is racial profiling.

Then, contradicting itself, the law also says that race, color or national origin shouldn’t be used in determining an individual’s status beyond the extent permitted by the U.S. and Alabama constitutions, whatever that means. But it is hard to see how those issues could be prevented from factoring into the decisions of law enforcement officers.

The arrest of the Mercedes-Benz official has made Alabama the brunt of jokes from other states. In an editorial urging Mercedes to abandon its Alabama campus and move to Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, “We are the Show-Me State, not the ‘Show me your papers’ state.”

While the irony of U.S. police officers asking a German visitor for his papers is certainly embarrassing, the true cost of this episode may not be felt for years. Alabama has worked hard to build a business-friendly atmosphere and court big companies interested in economic development projects. Incidents like this are a huge blow to the efforts our workers and economic development leaders have put into expanding our manufacturing base and cultivating a reputation for being a good place to do business.

Mercedes-Benz, for instance, has just announced an expansion at its plant outside of Tuscaloosa, which will create an additional 1,400 jobs and push the company’s total investment in the state to $4 billion. The automaker’s decision to build cars in the Tuscaloosa area in 1993 was followed by a huge expansion in vehicle manufacturing in Alabama, including new Honda and Hyundai plants. And this is how we treat its visiting leaders?

Perhaps more shamefully, this is how we also plan to treat our own citizens and legal immigrants who don’t have proper documentation with them?

When they are arrested and inconvenienced in such an unnecessary way, though, they won’t get the national media’s attention. They may not get any attention.

Arresting a perfectly lawful corporate executive for such an unnecessary reason was an unfortunate situation, but arresting lawful citizens and immigrants under this law is even more of a violation of the trust our public has placed in its government.

We need a secure border and a reformed immigration system, but we do not need Alabama police arresting us for not having proper documentation.


Tray Smith is the opinions editor of The Crimson White.



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