Last Friday, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) finally admitted that his state’s harsh anti-immigrant law “need[s] revision.” Yet he delayed actually taking action to correct any of the most harmful effects of the law until “the beginning of the next legislative session” next February. Simply put, the people of Alabama cannot wait this long for its leaders to correct the error they made in enacting this law in the first place. Bentley has the power to call a special legislative session right away and he should do so immediately to correct the most harmful aspects of his state’s assault on immigrant families.
Indeed, if Bentley had never signed this unconstitutional law in the first place, Alabama would have avoided numerous embarrassments — some of which could cost the state thousands of jobs. It is too late to turn back the clock, but here are just a few examples of errors that Bentley should immediately instruct the state legislature to correct in a special session:
- Embarrassing Arrests: Police arrested a German Mercedes Benz employee for not having the right documents when he was pulled over in November. The charges were later dropped, but almost two weeks later, the AP reported that police arrested a Japanese Honda employee for being in violation of HB 56 while driving even though he reportedly had his passport and international driver’s license. Charges were later dropped as well. Both international automakers employee thousands of Alabamians, and Bentley recently contacted four automakers with factories in Alabama to plead with them not to pull these jobs out of his state. Rather than trying to placate them with empty words, he should assure them that there will not be a repeat of these embarrassing arrests by instructing the legislator to correct Alabama’s law.
- No Water: Because of a provision of the immigration law preventing contracts between the state and undocumented immigrants, public utility companies have denied service to anyone who cannot prove they are a citizen or legally in the United States, effectively making it a felony for undocumented immigrants to take a bath in their own homes. No other state or developed nation has a ban this extreme on contracting with undocumented immigrants. A state judge found the provision to be unconstitutional, at least as applied to some contract.
- Working Families Flee: Politicians readily admitted that the goal of HB 56 was to make Alabama a hostile place for undocumented immigrants, but as a result, families have fled the state out of fear, leaving schools with high absenteeism rates among Hispanic students, businesses without workers, and stores without customers. Farmers watched their crops rot without enough workers to help harvest, and some said they were at risk of losing their farms. And owners of poultry processing plants and catfish farms say they have lost workers and are having trouble replacing the workers who left.
Bentley is not alone in believing the law needs to be changed. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) admitted parts of the law should be scrapped, and legislators like state Sen. Gerald Dial (R) agree the law needs to be changed. With so many conservative leaders within his state agreeing that this law goes too far, Bentley has no excuse for waiting until the legislature convenes for its regular session in February.
Although parts of the law were temporarily halted by the Eleventh Circuit, the law has already had a devastating effect on the state’s economy. Conservative estimates suggest the state’s economy could contract by $40 million. More than the economic effects, it is an unconscionable and unconstitutional law that, among other flaws, impedes undocumented students’ constitutional right to an education. If Robert Bentley seriously wants to change any of this, he should act now.
On Monday, another federal judge raised even more questions about the constitutionality of the immigration law.