Senator Scott Beason — the guy who once said that we should “empty the clip, and do what has to be done [on illegal immigration]”; referred to people at a casino in a predominately black county as “aborigines”; and author of the worst anti-immigrant law in the country, H.B. 56 — introduced a “tweak bill” known as H.B. 658. As one could only expect from an extremist like Beason, the bill is extreme. On the last day of its legislative session, the Alabama state senate passed it.
Then, in a surprising move, the Governor of Alabama — Governor Bentley — thought about not signing this bill into a law, stating that it went too far and that he wanted to make amendments. Two provisions that were noted as extreme are as follows:
- The scarlet letter provision which requires that 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
- The provision which makes it okay for kids to be questioned regarding their immigration status
Despite that, in a move that makes him look incredibly weak as Governor of Alabama, Bentley signed the bill late on Friday. From a press release that was issued later that day:
“We needed to make House Bill 56 better. And over the course of the legislative session, we did that,” Governor Bentley said. “There is substantial progress in this bill. Burdens on legal residents and businesses are eased, and the goal remains the same – that if you live and work in Alabama, you must do so legally.”
“Over the last several months, we worked closely with legislators to revise House Bill 56,” Governor Bentley added. “The set of revisions that passed in the full House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee had my support. The bill that the full Senate ultimately passed was different and did not reflect all of the changes we had agreed upon. However, the bill did include most of the suggested revisions and represented substantial progress in simplifying the bill while keeping it strong.”
So then why is Human Rights Watch so concerned?
“Governor Bentley was right to reject HB 658, but the discriminatory intent of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law can’t be ‘tweaked’ away,” said Grace Meng, US researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of “No Way to Live,” a 2011 report that documents the human rights impact of the Beason-Hammon Act. “Alabama’s unauthorized immigrants will remain highly vulnerable to crimes and abuses so long as the Beason-Hammon Act is on the books.”
Rather than address these concerns, the Alabama legislature on May 16 passed a bill that would have increased the potential for discriminatory and abusive treatment of unauthorized immigrants and their families. It would have required the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to create an online public database with the names of all unauthorized immigrants who have ever appeared in court for any violation of state law. Singling out unauthorized immigrants in this manner violates the right to equal protection under the law, while also implicitly inviting private citizens to target these individuals as well as anyone perceived to be in this database, Human Rights Watch said. The rejected bill did not eliminate the requirement in Beason-Hammon for schools to check the citizenship status of their students. Nor did it eliminate the provision requiring local law enforcement to ascertain the immigration status of anyone they stop if “reasonable suspicion” exists that they are in the country unlawfully.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been on the front lines in the fight against Alabama’s H.B. 56, also weighed in.
“Despite the fact that our state has suffered incredibly over the past year as a result of HB 56, the Alabama legislature and Governor Bentley have chosen to double down by passing and signing into law an even more extreme measure,” said Mary Bauer, SPLC’s Legal Director.
“While other states have abandoned similar measures and even recalled the sponsors of such measures, Alabama has once again made a name for itself as the worst of the worst.”
According to Kim Chandler of the Birmingham News, Scott Beason “‘couldn’t be more pleased’ with the outcome.”
And as Alabama’s economy and reputation continues to tank, he’ll be the only one.
For more on how this move will go down in history for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, watch this video: