How the Harshest Immigration Law in America Failed

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In 2011, Alabama passed HB 56, America’s harshest immigration policy. Aspect aid to undocumented immigrants illegal, and even empowering citizens to sue police officers witnessed shirking their duties to enforce these laws.

It only took six weeks after the bill passed for proponents of the bill to begin to question their own judgment.

“I’ve learned in life that if you make a mistake, you should be man enough to admit it,” said Republican senator Gerald Dial.

Dial voted for the law and had second thoughts after a German Mercedes-Benz executive was subject to arrest for a traffic citation. The executive was stopped in his rental car for not having proper tags on the vehicle and only had on him his German identification. HB 56 required the police arrest and detain the driver until federal immigration authorities determined what to do with him no matter how much time it took. Needless to sas of this law included banning landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants, checking students’ legal status at schools, made givingy, this terrified the business community.

At the same time, police officers resisted the laws as well since they simply didn’t have the manpower it took to enforce the laws when traffic citations suddenly turned into long, drawn-out arrests and detentions that cost departments lots of money. The Hispanic population stopped talking to law enforcement all together for fear of detention and deportation as well.

HB 56, with its provision that criminalized giving aid to undocumented immigrants made everything from soup kitchens to church services in Spanish illegal. Mass confusion about what places and services people needed to provide papers to access caused chaos in the courts and in utilities offices, and generated long lines for citizens and non-citizens alike.

“Illegal is illegal,” was the rallying cry behind this legislation, arguing that federal immigration policy was not strong enough to meet the needs of Alabama to stem the flow of undocumented workers. The original goal was to expel the undocumented immigrants living in Alabama. When the law first passed, many immigrants fled the state or adjusted their lives to minimize car trips and avoid police road blocks. Two years later the demographics are about the same as before HB 56 went into effect.

“When it first went into effect, people were afraid to go outside,” reported Father Tim Pfander who leads the St. William Catholic Church congregation that includes hundreds of Latinos. “Today, I think they’ve seen how it’s enforced and are carrying on.”

Looking back since 2008, it’s clear that there’s been a shift in Alabama’s attitude towards undocumented immigrants in the state. Anti-immigration fervor that led to the passing of HB 56 has largely subsided. In 2012 elections, immigration was not a central issue of the race and HB 56’s main proponents, Councilman Chuck Ellis and Mayor Lindsey Lyons were both voted out. Current elected officials tend to take a moderate stance on the immigration issue.

Although the laws set in place by HB 56 have been massively scaled back and attitudes towards undocumented immigrants have become more accepting of the reality of it, the population still carries some scars. Many Hispanic students who had scholarships for state universities lost their scholarships because they had to stay home to take care of younger siblings in case their parents got detained. Although undocumented immigrants aren’t leaving the state, they still have no obvious ways of becoming naturalized into the country they live in and still live in fear of deportation.

Adapted from: Sarlin, Benjy. “How America’s harshest immigration law failed,” MSNBC. December 16, 2013. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/undocumented-workers-immigration-alabama

This article was written by Rebecca Little

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