The harm from Alabama’s extreme anti-immigrant law has been obvious for months: children denied benefits and scared away from school, families denied water in their homes, crops left to rot without enough workers. The clear damage from HB 56 should have spurred officials in Alabama to work to change the far-reaching immigration enforcement provisions soon after the law went into effect last fall. Lawmakers in the Alabama House and Senate opened the legislative session in February by proposing changes to HB 56, to no avail.
Now, months after they should have acted, Alabama legislators finally introduced a rewrite of HB 56 to address the immigration bill’s severe flaws — only to add another provision that makes the bill even worse:
Long-promised revisions to the state’s controversial immigration law were filed Thursday afternoon, with one significantly expanding provisions allowing officers to detain those they have “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country unlawfully.
Under the current law, police could apply “reasonable suspicion” to the individual arrested or cited during a traffic stop. The new bill would allow law enforcement to detain anyone else in the vehicle.
Police would only be able to ask about a person’s immigration status during traffic citations or arrests instead of at any stop, but this is still an invasive addition to the law to allow police to question anyone in a car, not just the driver. Todd Stacy, spokesman for House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R), said law enforcement officials requested the expanded interpretation of “reasonable suspicion.”
To be fair, the rewrite of HB 56 also revises two of the most troublesome provisions of the original law. The rewrite changes a “business transactions” provision that had been used to prevent people who could not prove their legal status from receiving utilities like water and gas. Under the revised bill, people will only be asked to prove their citizenship when applying for a car tag, business license, or driver’s license. The changes also eliminate a provision that required schools to collect enrolling students’ immigration status, which had scared children into not going to school when the law first went into effect.
But taking out the worst of the enforcement measures in HB 56 — provisions that courts have already suspended — does not change the damage the state has already seen because of HB 56. One study estimates that Alabama could lose more than 100,000 jobs and billions in GDP because of the immigration law.
Despite the problems, Republican officials yesterday emphasized that the tweaks would not change the purpose of HB 56. “The essence of the law will not change: Anyone living and working in Alabama must be here legally,” Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said. And Hubbard scoffed at the idea of removing such a harmful law from the books entirely. “Some activist groups don’t have a problem with illegal immigration and will only be happy if the law is repealed,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
HB 56 is hurting the state’s residents as well as its image to the rest of the world. Fully repealing the bill would be the best option — several lawmakers introduced a bill to do just that — and taking out some of the most harmful provisions helps. But adding another layer to HB 56 that puts more people at risk of being profiled is a big step backwards.