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Alabama Immigration Law Affects Immigrants and U.S. Citizens

by Mahwish Khan on 08/29/2011 at 1:24pm

Alabama Immigration LawIn rural Alabama lies Cullman County, recognized as the “state’s top agricultural community.” David Palmer of The Cullman Times interviewed two farmers who express concern over Alabama’s new anti-immigration law, which is scheduled to take effect in three days on September 1st. Both farmers come to the same consensus. To put it succinctly: this new law stinks. Here’s one farmer’s story:     

“Those guys making those laws say they are doing it to help the people. That’s bull. They’re just after the majority support,” said Keith Smith, a lifetime farmer on Gold Ridge Road.

Smith, who was a candidate last year for a county commission seat, said he has heard both sides of the immigration issue and believes a solution would be to allow visiting workers to buy a work permit. He said without the migrant workers, farms will be in deep trouble.

“They (politicians) say they are putting Alabamians back to work, but that won’t happen. Few people want to do this work. We pay minimum wage and more, depending on how much the workers accomplish. I know one thing, if I was depending on American workers I couldn’t do what I do,” Smith said.

Smith has more than 150 acres of sweet potatoes in the fields in Cullman County. He also has poultry houses, hay, and other row crops. Like many farmers, he leases additional land for crop production outside of Cullman County.

“This is all I’ve ever done,” said Smith, 54. “I grew up farming. I worked hauling hay and whatever needed to be done. But things have changed. Without the migrant workers, who are mostly Hispanic, you wouldn’t be able to make a living farming.”

You may have expected legislators in Alabama to have learned a lesson or two from neighboring Georgia, which passed an anti-immigrant bill of its own a month before Alabama passed theirs — much to the detriment of the state’s agricultural economy; perhaps, even, resulting in its ruin. But this would be giving GOP legislators too much credit. They’re too nativist to see beyond their xenophobic ways. After all, killing farm jobs fits in with the GOP jobs plan. They’ll kill an entire industry. 

The law is also a sore point for civil rights advocates who argue that such backward legislation sets the state back some 40/50 years. As can be expected with extreme legislation, there are grave implications for undocumented immigrants,  documented immigrants, and citizens…which means that pretty much everyone can find themselves knee-deep in the fray.  Over the weekend, the New York Times and the Washington Post editorialize on the effects of the legislation. 

According to the Washington Post:

The immediate effect of the law will be to intensify the harassment and beleaguered conditions under which Hispanics in Alabama — legal as well as illegal — live their daily lives. In addition to the state’s legal Hispanic residents, an estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants are in Alabama, drawn there for the most part by jobs that locals have not wanted.

And the New York Times writes of a need for a federal fix to the immigration problem:

The law, which takes effect Sept. 1, is so inhumane that four Alabama church leaders — an Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop and bishop — have sued to block it, saying it criminalizes acts of Christian compassion. It is a sweeping attempt to terrorize undocumented immigrants in every aspect of their lives, and to make potential criminals of anyone who may work or live with them or show them kindness.

It effectively makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Alabama, by criminalizing working, renting a home and failing to comply with federal registration laws that are largely obsolete. It nullifies any contracts when one party is an undocumented immigrant. It requires the police to check the papers of people they suspect to be here illegally.

The new regime does not spare American citizens. Businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants will lose their licenses. Public school officials will be required to determine students’ immigration status and report back to the state. Anyone knowingly “concealing, harboring or shielding” an illegal immigrant could be charged with a crime, say for renting someone an apartment or driving her to church or the doctor…

Congress was once on the brink of an ambitious bipartisan reform that would have enabled millions of immigrants stranded by the failed immigration system to get right with the law. This sensible policy has been abandoned. We hope the church leaders can waken their fellow Alabamans to the moral damage done when forgiveness and justice are so ruthlessly denied. We hope Washington and the rest of the country will also listen.

Last Wednesday, the Department of Justice faced off with lawyers from Alabama over the constitutionality of Alabama’s immigration law. While Judge Sharon Blackburn has said that she believes “there are a lot of problems” with the law, she has yet to issue a ruling. She is expected to make a decision this week. We’ll have more on that when it happens. Stay tuned.

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