An Alabama bill that was implemented to encourage immigrant self-deportation should be repealed
THE LATEST incarnation of the fight against illegal immigration is “self-deportation,” wherein laws make living conditions so intolerable to illegal immigrants that they leave the country of their own accord. Some state legislatures are pursuing this tactic. The poster child is Arizona’s notorious Senate Bill 1070, also known as SB-1070, which criminalized the lack of immigration papers on one’s person and allowed law enforcement to detain individuals suspected of being illegal immigrants. Another bill, Alabama’s House Bill 56, also known as HB-56, is perhaps the most comprehensive and successful in terms of combating illegal immigration. But the harmful consequences of HB-56 are evidence that the hard-lined measure of self-deportation should be abandoned.
Like SB-1070, HB-56 gives police officers the authority to check for immigration papers during traffic stops, tremendously increasing the likelihood of an illegal immigrant being apprehended. But the Alabama bill is much more expansive in its reach than its Arizona counterpart. It criminalizes illegal immigrants entering into “business contracts” with the government, making it virtually impossible for them to obtain legal papers such as driver’s licenses and death certificates. The law also forbids aiding illegal immigrants in any way, such as providing housing or food, and it voids any contracts with them, making employers not obligated to pay workers, for example.
Add all these provisions together, and the impact of HB-56 on the Hispanic community is nothing less than a crisis. Because of a provision allowing school officials to check the immigration statuses of their students, parents have been pulling their kids out of schools. The immigrants who have not left the country already have been quitting their jobs and shutting themselves inside their homes for fear of a run-in with a police officer, which is a one-way ticket to deportation. Perhaps most tragically, the bill has reawakened racial tensions in a state mired with a history of interracial conflicts, as evidenced by Jim Crow laws and the atrocities committed in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement. Some citizens have apparently become zealous vigilantes against illegal immigrants. There have been reported instances of Hispanics being refused service at grocery stores because they did not have immigration papers on their person. HB-56 was written to make immigrants feel unwelcome, and it has done exactly that.
The bill has also had disastrous effects outside the Hispanic community. The average police stop now takes hours instead of 15 to 20 minutes because police officers are obligated to check for immigration papers. HB-56 has also caused a shortage of workers in sectors such as agriculture and poultry processing, leaving fields of crops unharvested and plants with massive turnover rates. The argument for the bill was that unemployed citizens would replace illegal immigrants. In reality, employers have found that Americans are just unprepared or unwilling to work difficult manual labor jobs. Businesses have resorted to importing refugees from other states to fill the empty spots in their work rolls.
One might argue that something has to be done about illegal immigration. But hopefully I have made it clear that self-deportation is not the answer to this problem. It works brilliantly on paper — thousands of Hispanics are indeed fleeing Alabama to Latin America or to other, more welcoming states — but its victory is a Pyrrhic one at best. In the words of a Roman writer, it is akin to making desolation and calling the aftermath peace. The disastrous consequences of HB-56 in Alabama suggest that a more lenient, amnesty-based approach is the solution to a seemingly intractable problem. The backlash against HB-56 is already beginning. Judges have already blocked many of its provisions. Even some of the legislators who passed it are now having second thoughts about the bill. Gerald Dial, for example, the Republican whip of the Alabama State Senate, now calls for a “Good Samaritan” proviso that would decriminalize the aiding of illegal immigrants, as he found that part of the bill draconian and, being a man of faith, unchristian. We can only hope the backlash intensifies and the bill will be ultimately repealed.
_Rolph Recto’s column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at