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Alabama Legislators Weighing Changes To State’s Draconian Immigration Law

The realities of how drastically HB 56, Alabama’s extremely harmful immigration law, harms the state economy and daily lives of state residents has become abundantly clear, with farmers watching crops rot because they do not have enough workers, children being bullied in school, and proof of citizenship being required for everything down to getting a library card.

Now, Republicans legislators are beginning to talk about ways to change the law, and they even have removed the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Scott Beason (R), as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee because of racist comments he made. Many say they want to fix the “unintended consequences” of the law. Specifically, state Sen. Gerald Dial (R), who is helping to write a series of amendments for the law, told the Birmingham News that requiring proof of legal residence or citizenship for every transaction with a state or local government is too burdensome. “It’s just common sense. Let’s step up and say we’ve made some mistakes,” Dial said.

But echoing other legislators, Dial also insisted that the changes will not take away from the law’s purpose: to prevent undocumented immigrants from working in the state. The New York Times reports that the law is still popular even as industries suffer from the loss of immigrant workers who were scared away by the law:

“Eighty percent of the population of the state thinks it’s a good bill, so politically you’re kind of careful to say anything negative about it,” said Judge James V. Perdue, president of the Alabama Probate Judges Association. “Those that passed it don’t want to admit that there’s anything wrong with it.”

But as lawmakers hear complaints from business leaders and constituents, several have become more willing to discuss changing, clarifying or in some cases scrapping sections of the law governing schools, government transactions and several of the law’s stiff penalty provisions.

Outside of farmers and poultry plant operators, who have complained of severe labor shortages, the most pointed criticisms concern a legally vague provision that requires proof of immigration status for “any transaction between a person and the state or a political subdivision of the state.”

The law lists three examples of such transactions: renewing driver’s licenses, business licenses and car tags. In a court filing in August, the state argued that the United States Justice Department, which is challenging the law, was exaggerating the law’s reach.

Its fear that Section 30 would prohibit such aliens from having running water or sewer services, for example, has little basis,” the filing said.

But lawyers across the state are concluding that this section could be interpreted, in the words of Birmingham’s city attorney, Thomas Bentley, to apply to “almost everything that we do.”

As good as it sounds to hear Dial openly discuss changes to the immigration law, the damage from the extremely anti-immigrant law has already been done. The state’s economy will lose $40 million as an effect of the law, hampering its ability to recover from the recession. Even doctors in the state could have trouble this year renewing their professional licenses before the Alabama legislature takes up any amendments to the law in its 2012 session.

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Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) admits that the law is confusing for people. “I do believe we need to simplify this bill,” he said. But between the amendments being discussed by legislators and the governor’s admission that the law needs to be changed, it begs the question why they approved such an extreme measure without weighing the consequences in the first place.