Yet another state got the green light to profile its residents when last Wednesday, a federal district court judge in Birmingham upheld the lion’s share of the new Alabama immigration law, H.B. 56, signed in June. Get this: the judge actually cut out some of the harshest stuff: according to the New York Times, the judge blocked a provision that outlawed the harboring or transporting of illegal immigrants and another that barred illegal immigrants from enrolling in or attending public universities.
The judge upheld a section that requires state and local law enforcement officials to try to verify a person’s immigration status during routine traffic stops or arrests, if “a reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the country illegally. And she ruled that a section that criminalized the “willful failure” of a person in the country illegally to carry federal immigration papers did not pre-empt federal law…
Among the other sections Judge Blackburn upheld: one that nullifies any contracts entered into by an illegal immigrant; another that forbids any transaction between an illegal immigrant and any division of the state, a proscription that has already led to the denial of a Montgomery man’s application for water and sewage service; and, most controversially, a section that requires elementary and secondary schools to determine the immigration status of incoming students.
In upholding these provisions, the judge ignored federal rulings supporting Department of Justice challenges to the similar Arizona and Georgia immigration laws. Right away, the law is producing a very real effect: the state’s Hispanics are fleeing in droves. Some are selling their houses for pennies on the dollar; employers face sudden staffing shortages; thousands of Hispanic children (many of whom were born here, and are thus citizens) have been absent from schools, which now have to check students’ immigration status.
A principal of an elementary school with dozens of absences said last Friday:
“It’s been a challenging day, an emotional day. My children have been in tears today. They’re afraid,” he said. “We have been in crisis-management mode, trying to help our children get over this.”
The Obama administration has appealed the federal judge’s ruling, arguing that the federal government handles immigration, not states:
“Alabama has no authority to regulate in the area of immigration,” the department’s lawyers said. By contrast, they said, the “federal government’s authority in matters of immigration is plenary and exclusive.”
Supporters of the Alabama law argue that it’s about time a law like this one got passed, because too many employers were only too willing to pay Hispanics labor lower wages, leaving quote-unquote native Alabamans out of work. Suppose that’s the case, and Alabama’s nearly 10% unemployment rate doesn’t improve. Will another group get targeted then?