It has been one year since Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed HB 56, the nation’s most harmful immigration measure, into law. He praised the bill after signing it on June 9, 2011, calling it the “toughest bill in the country.”
Shortly after some of immigration provisions went into effect in September, the widespread damage from the law was obvious. By December, even Bentley admitted that HB 56 “need[s] revision,” although it would be months before lawmakers took action. Courts temporarily blocked parts of HB 56, but not before students were too scared to go to school and families were denied utilities:
- Attack On School Children: 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. HB 56 required schools only to check the immigration status of all newly enrolled students, and 13 percent of Latino students dropped out by February, likely out of fear.
- Families Denied Water, Food Stamps: 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. Beyond public utilities, this “business transaction” ban led some U.S.-born children to be denied food stamps simply because their parents were undocumented immigrants.
- Economic Damage: After families fled the state out of fear, 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 said they have lost workers and are having trouble replacing the workers who left. It’s estimated that HB 56 could cost Alabama as many as 100,000 jobs and billions in GDP losses, but the law’s author still said it has no “negative impact.”
- Embarrassing Arrests: HB 56 turned into a PR nightmare for the state when 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, police also 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.
During the 2012 legislative session, Alabama legislators finally had the opportunity to address these glaring issues. But instead of repealing HB 56 or even taking out the worst provisions, like asking school children about their immigration status, lawmakers doubled down and made the immigration law even worse. Undocumented immigrants are still barred from renting property, and law enforcement officials can still check immigration status based on a “reasonable suspicion.”
Briefly, Alabama’s governor stood up to the anti-immigrant supporters of HB 56 and threatened to veto the proposed changes if they did not take out the requirement that schools check immigration status. But he eventually caved and signed the changes, which have one bright spot: legislators clarified what is a “business transaction” so that people are not blocked from having water in their homes.
Alabama did not learn the lessons of Arizona about the problems that result from these extreme immigration laws that do nothing but hurt the state. Now it’s serving as a lesson for other states who do not want to make the same mistake as Alabama’s lawmakers.