Alabama's flawed immigration law

Alabama's flawed immigration law

October 4th, 2011 in Opinion Times

Arizona's enactment last year of what was then the harshest anti-immigration law in the land ignited a race among other pandering, Republican-controlled Legislatures to match or beat Arizona on the xenophobia scale. Georgia, South Carolina, Utah and Indiana, among others, rushed to pass similar crackdowns, but Alabama's stab at the issue has been the harshest. To make matters worse, a federal judge in Birmingham has now ruled that most of the law's provisions may go into effect pending a trial on their merits. The Justice Department cannot appeal the ruling by Judge Sharon Blackburn too soon.

On its face, the new law flouts fair treatment and constitutional protections for individuals, and is brutally punitive and discriminatory. Its provisions amount to an attack on children and families, and on workers' and individuals' rights to contracts and just treatment. Its broad-brush empowerment of state and local law enforcement agencies to demand to see personal documents of individuals whom police may assume to be undocumented aliens also amounts, at the least, to the sort of random profiling that courts have traditionally rejected.

The risks to families and children and their educational future owe to the law's requirement that elementary and secondary schools must determine the immigration status of all incoming students. That section is blatantly discriminatory, and egregiously harmful to our society. It also ignores research which shows that 88 percent of school-aged immigrant children were born in the United States and thus are American citizens. It further flouts settled law that public schools must be open to immigrants, regardless of their legal status, and may not legally hinder the enrollment of illegal immigrants.

Child advocates, faith groups and immigrant organizations reasonably fear, however, that the requirement for schools to confirm immigrant status may cause immigrant families to keep their children out of school to avoid entanglement in records' searches. They also rightly claim that the law wrongly attempts to make school employees legal agents of the state.

Other provisions are equally onerous and run counter to America's social and legal traditions. One would require state and local law enforcement officers to try to verify a person's immigration status in the course of routine traffic stops if the officer has "a reasonable suspicion" that the person is an illegal immigrant.

Another section would make an illegal alien's "willful failure" to carry federal immigrant documents a criminal offense in Alabama. Still another would render invalid any contract entered into by an illegal immigrant. That provision would allow lawless abuse of trusting immigrants by American employers, utilities, individuals and companies of all types.

Many Alabamians rightly oppose the GOP bill. Indeed, there are many grounds for opposition. The bill violates basic human rights and fair principles of justice. It encroaches on predominant federal immigration law and authority. It minimizes the value of immigrant economic activity and the productive value of immigrants' labor, and exaggerates the claimed cost of illegal immigration in Alabama. And it needlessly harms families and children who deserve better, fairer treatment.

Justice Department officials must quickly challenge the ruling and seek a stay of its provisions. More to the point, Congress should at last realize that it can not continue to dodge the need for a comprehensive reform of immigration laws, or allow the issue to be further used as a political football. The impact of disparate state laws on immigrants and their families, and the corrosive damage to American ideals and values, and to the nation's economy, have become too great to ignore any longer.