Is Alabama the Worst Place in America for Immigrants?

Stephen Piggott • May 22, 2012

Gov. Bentley

In the past few years, the anti-immigrant movement has become more and more emboldened with its nativist laws, which have been introduced in dozens of states. Just when we thought Arizona’s SB 1070 was the harshest bill to be introduced, Alabama decided to one up it with the passage of HB 56. With the help of the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) the group that drafts anti-immigrant legislation before passing it along to state politicians, Alabama has now become the most unwelcoming state in the Union for immigrants. Late last week however, Alabama took it one step further when Governor Robert Bentley signed another bill amending HB 56. This amendment actually makes it even worse.

The harshest of the provisions in the new bill, HB 658, is one that will force the state to create a public database of all undocumented immigrants who appear in an Alabama court. The database will include undocumented immigrants’ names and select personal information. Including such a provision is a major victory for the anti-immigrant movement’s “attrition through enforcement” policy which attempts to make an undocumented immigrants life so miserable that they “self deport.”

Another disturbing provision of the new HB 658 bill, which kept intact the original HB 56 bill, is one that forces K-12 schools to gather the immigration statuses of students and their parents. This provision is currently making its way through the courts to determine its constitutionality, but is seen as one of the major stumbling blocks for the anti-immigrant movement in its attempt to overturn the Supreme Court’s Plyler v Doe case which ruled that all children, regardless of status, may attend public schools for grades K-12. Anti-immigrant groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and its legal arm, IRLI, see overturning Plyler v Doe as one of their primary policy goals.

Alabama has taken a major step back in terms of upholding its residents’ civil rights and liberties. With the Supreme Court due to make a decision on Arizona’s SB 1070 in about a month, the door could be opened for dozens of states to enact similar nativist legislation that does little more than divide communities and bring hardships on undeserving people. A lawyer for the civil rights organization, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) succinctly summed up the reaction to the signing of HB 658 by stating, “Some leaders stand up to extremists and do what they know is right; and then there’s Governor Bentley.”

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