Since HB 56, Alabama’s extreme immigration law, went into effect last fall, children stayed home from school out of fear that their parents would be deported, and U.S.-born children have been denied food stamps because of their parents’ immigration status. Public utility companies denied service to anyone who did not provide ID to prove they were legally in the U.S. Farmers watched their crops rot in the fields after their workers left Alabama. In all, one study shows that the damage from HB 56 could end up costing Alabama about 100,000 jobs and billions in GDP losses.
After officials began enforcing HB 56, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) set up a hotline for Alabama residents to report how the law affected them. Thousands of calls poured in, and the SPLC has collected some of the most egregious stories: undocumented immigrants denied pay, U.S. citizens harassed because they look like immigrants, a family surviving without water in their home. “The result is a crisis that harkens back to the bleakest days of Alabama’s racial history,” according to the report, which highlights 10 of these stories:
[The stories] illustrate the devastating impact HB 56 has had on Alabama Latinos, regardless of their immigration status. The stories also illustrate that HB 56 has unleashed a kind of vigilantism, leading some Alabamians to believe they can cheat, harass and intimidate Latinos with impunity. These consequences were easily foreseeable.
The law was forged within a legislative debate rife with stereotypes, misinformation, incendiary rhetoric and bigotry. The Senate sponsor told colleagues they needed to “empty the clip” to deal with immigrants. The House sponsor, Rep. Micky Hammon, cited the increase in Alabama’s Latino population to illustrate the growth of the state’s undocumented population. Hammon’s conflation of “Hispanic” with “illegal immigrant” during the legislative debate was so egregious that a federal judge cited it in a recent opinion.
When legislators supporting HB 56 can’t distinguish between ethnicity and immigration status, it should be no surprise the law brings the chaos and confusion described in the following pages. As the Latinos whose stories are told here can attest, HB 56 has been a dangerous, failed experiment—a humanitarian disaster.
“There is no fixing this law,” said SPLC legal director Mary Bauer. “It does not need to be re-written or tweaked at the margins, as some Alabama legislators have suggested. It should be repealed.” State Sen. Billy Beasley (D) described the repeal effort as an “uphill battle.” Three other senators are supporting Beasley’s proposed legislation that would repeal the bill entirely, and a Republican state senator has introduced a bill that would repeal some of the worst parts of the law.
Alabama lawmakers have had a few months to see the irrevocable damage HB 56 has already done to their state. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) should have called a special session sooner for the legislators to do something about this harmful immigration law, but the SPLC’s new report simply highlights how necessary it is that legislators roll back at least the worst parts of HB 56, if not the entire law — and soon.