Alabama Legislature Considers Immigration Law Tweaks


90.3 WBHM Birmingham--The Alabama Legislature begins its regular session today and one of the big issues lawmakers will consider is changing the state’s immigration law. That law, HB56, is considered the nation’s toughest crackdown on illegal immigrants. When it passed last year it got very little attention from Alabama’s business community, but as WBHM's Tanya Ott reports, business leaders are driving the latest efforts to modify the law.


Whoever said “All publicity is good publicity” probably never had dozens of protestors gathered in front of their office calling them Hitler. At lunch time, in Birmingham’s business district, students from several local colleges held a mock funeral in front of a bank. They accuse the company of funding private detention centers where, they claim, illegal immigrants have died. University of Alabama at Birmingham Student William Anderson organized the event.

“Everybody that voted for HB56 should be ashamed of themselves. And they should all be pushing for full repeal, not tweaking anything. You can’t tweak hate.”

It’s not likely the legislature will repeal the law, but there is mounting pressure to tweak it. Among other things, the law requires schools to record the legal status of all students. It also requires proof of citizenship to renew a driver’s license or enter into any government contract.

“The problem the governments have run into is the law is very broad in its definition of contractor or subcontractor.”

Cindy Crawford is editor of the Birmingham Business Journal.

“So to follow the law and cover all their bases, governments have sent paperwork requests to just about every company they do business with.”

The Business Journal itself received a notice from a local city that subscribes to the newspaper asking for the immigration status of all newspaper employees and subcontractors. It’s the law of unintended consequences. Long lines at the courthouse to renew car license tags and vegetable crops rotting in the fields since workers fled.

Business leaders got caught flat-footed when the law passed. It was soon obvious it would have a significant effect on economic development. Especially after two foreign autoworkers -- a German executive with Mercedes Benz and a Japanese worker at a Honda plant – were detained under the law. The St. Louis Post Dispatch newspaper ran an editorial inviting companies to relocate to the “Show Me State” … not the “Show Me Your Papers” state. Brian Hilson is the CEO of the Birmingham Business Alliance.

“It’s not like business prospects are sounding an alarm and coming to us and telling us that they are rethinking their plans to do business in Alabama. It’s the unknown. It’s what they’re not saying to us.”

Hilson says there’s no way to know how much business the state is losing, but researchers at the University of Alabama peg the cost at up to $11 billion in lost jobs and income and sales tax revenues. Scott Beason rejects that number and any efforts to significantly change the law. Beason is the Republican state senator who co-sponsored the original bill.

“If people begin to cave from political pressure, that donors want something changed, they’ll have to do it against the vast majority of the people in their district and go with the small special interest group that makes their decision based on profit.”

A public opinion poll conducted last week found 42% of respondents say they support the law, but think it goes too far. Already, several legislators have introduced bills to modify it and the courts have ruled some provisions unconstitutional. Still, there’s no disputing supporters of the law have achieved their main goal: driving illegal immigrants out of Alabama.

~ Tanya Ott, February 7, 2012.