When Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and Attorney General Luther Strange (R) both called for changes to the state’s anti-immigrant law last year, it was a hopeful sign that the state might roll back the law’s most harmful effects. According to one projection, the state GDP could decline by $2.3 to $10.8 billion because of HB 56, and the state could lose up to 140,000 jobs.
And state Sen. Gerald Dial (R) agreed with the governor and attorney general and other legislators who called for changes to the law. “It’s just common sense. Let’s step up and say we’ve made some mistakes,” Dial said in November. Now he has filed a bill that proposes some of the broadest changes to HB 56 that, while far from perfect, would address some of the most harmful aspects of HB 56:
- Would Not Require Schools To Collect Data: Dial’s bill removes a provision that requires schools to collect data about the citizenship or legal resident status of newly enrolled students. Following the implementation of HB 56, schools reported a spike in absenteeism among Latino students because some current students feared that their parents could be deported if they were asked about their citizenship.
- Redefines “Business Transaction”: HB 56 includes a measure that prevents the state from entering into a “business transaction” with undocumented immigrants. Some public utility companies took this to mean that they could not provide service to anyone who cannot prove they are a citizen or legally in the United States. It effectively made it a felony for undocumented immigrants to take a bath in their own homes. Dial’s bill redefines “business transaction” more narrowly to include issues related to driver’s licenses or non-driver identification cards, license plates, or business licenses.
Dial’s bill also repeals a provision that would deny bail to undocumented immigrants, but he does not propose any changes to a section of the law that requires Alabama police officers “to ask for immigration papers from anyone they come in contact with who looks or sounds foreign.” The Supreme Court will hold a hearing this spring on SB 1070, Arizona’s extreme immigration law with the same “papers, please” requirement as Alabama’s law.
Fully repealing the state’s immigration law — Democrats have filed bills in the Alabama House and Senate to do just that –would be the best option for Alabama. But that option is unlikely while Republicans control the Alabama legislature along with a Republican governor. Nevertheless, Dial’s bills are an important admission that the state erred when enacted HB 56’s declaration of war on immigrants — the state should not hesitate one second before rolling back as much of the law as it can.