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UPDATED: Alabama’s Governor Refuses to Sign Legislation that Made State’s Anti-Immigrant Law Even Worse

by Mahwish Khan on 05/17/2012 at 10:57am

BREAKING: Governor Bentley has refused to sign the new legislation, HB 658, saying that he has proposed amendments and that immigration will be addressed in a special legislative session.  More details soon. 
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Ignoring the fierce criticism, reminders of the state’s long ugly history of racism and the economic consequences caused by HB 56, the Alabama Legislature yesterday decided to make a bad law even worse.  Instead of listening to religious leaders, farmers, and community activists, the Alabama Senate followed the lead of one of the most notorious anti-immigrant elected officials in the state, State Senator Scott Beason.  From the Montgomery Advertiser:

The changes approved by the Legislature preserve most of the law and add a new provision that requires the Department of Homeland Security to post a quarterly list of the names of any undocumented aliens who appear in court for a violation of state law, regardless of whether they were convicted.

The Birmingham News provided details of the debate:

An opponent of the bill took a verbal shot at Beason, who once referred to people at a casino in a predominately black county as “aborigines.” The comment was recorded when Beason wore a wire for the FBI during a vote-buying investigation.

“Will the aborigines in Alabama be considered legal citizens? Are we considered citizens? …. It didn’t sound like that on your tape recording,” Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, asked at the Senate microphone.

Yep.  Scott Beason is setting the state’s immigration policy.  In February, the economic cost to Alabama of HB 56 was estimated at $11 billion. Beason’s plan to post the names of undocumented immigrants is clearly designed to target and harass those people. That’s why it’s  already being called the “scarlet letter” provision.

After yesterday’s vote, the Alabama Coalition for Immigration Justice (ACIJ) issued the following statement:

Today, the Alabama Senate approved a bill that makes changes to HB 56, Alabama’s hateful anti-immigrant law.  The new bill preserves most of the law while adding several provisions that make it even more dangerous.  Among other things, the bill expands the “show me your papers” provision to authorize law enforcement to demand “papers” of the passengers in a vehicle during a traffic stop, and fails to amend provisions of the law that turn school officials into de facto immigration officers by demanding that schools collect immigration status information about new students or their parents.  A new provision requiring the Department of Homeland Security to post in a “public and prominent” place a list of the names of any undocumented person who appears in court regardless of whether they were convicted amounts to a “scarlet letter” provision likely to lead to harassment and vigilantism.

In the aftermath of HB 56 last year, many lawmakers expressed remorse for their hasty and careless passage of a law they hadn’t read or had time to consider before it was rammed through the legislative session.  Yet, once again confusion reigned as Senator Beason’s substitute immigration bill was introduced at the last minute and after backroom deals had been made.  Senators attempting to introduce amendments to the bill were thwarted from doing so because they hadn’t received the most up-to-date version of the bill which was substituted in only moments before debate began.  The underhandedness surrounding the handling of the bill continued right up to its passage when a final vote was taken before all the senators had returned from a break.

“Incredibly, even after living with the humanitarian and economic disaster wrought by HB 56, the legislature allowed its most extreme and fanatical member to set the agenda and have his way at the last minute.  Forget about tolerance and compassion, we can’t even get transparency and fair play from our legislators,” said Zayne Smith, coordinator of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.  “It’s a real shame because Alabamians would have been better served by a legislature that had focused on passing a reasonable state budget, investing in education, or strengthening our economy.  Alabama deserves better than mean spirited legislation that once again shines a light on how far we must go to achieve equal treatment in this state. We will continue to fight laws like HB 56 until they are permanently removed from our law books.”

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