Where Does the GOP Field Stand on a Law That Has Created an Economic, Humanitarian and Civil Rights Crisis?
The news that a visiting Japanese employee of Honda’s plant in Lincoln, Alabama was stopped and received a citation under a provision of the state’s “papers, please” immigration law is further indication that the worst-in-the-nation immigration law is devastating Alabama’s reputation. On the heels of a similar story, the arrest of a German Mercedes-Benz executive earlier in November, the unintended consequences of the state’s self-inflicted wound are piling up, with potentially devastating results for Alabama’s economic productivity and bottom-line.
As immigration becomes a hot topic in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, precisely where do the leading candidates stand on the Alabama law? Do they really want states such as Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia and others to usurp federal authority and attempt to drive immigrants – legal and not – out of their states? Do they endorse an Alabama law that has caused children to avoid school, crops to rot on the vine, families to flee the state, long lines at government offices, immigrants to have their power and water cut off, and foreign executives to be arrested? Though the field has been mostly silent on the Alabama law specifically, the candidates are predominantly in favor of the mass-deportation concept that Alabama’s law embodies – the attempt to use legislative means to force undocumented immigrants from a jurisdiction, both through rounding up and deporting immigrants and through immigrants “self-deporting” in the face of an unwelcome and hostile climate.
Earlier this week, Newt Gingrich endorsed a similar law in South Carolina while appearing in that state, but he has not yet endorsed the Alabama approach. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has been clear as mud about his immigration positioning, but continues to promote a mass deportation approach nationally in concept if not explicitly – the same framework that undergirds the Alabama law. In October, Herman Cain endorsed Alabama’s approach more explicitly, saying, “Under the Cain presidency, the Department of Justice would not be suing Alabama. The Department of Justice would be helping Alabama.”
If the candidates want to know more about the Alabama law, the recent developments highlighted below should tell them some of what they need to know about the misguided nature of Alabama’s approach:
- Editorial: AL Provides to Foreign Companies a Welcome Mat and an Open Palm: The Tuscaloosa News editorialized, “Another foreign automotive worker reportedly was caught up in the state’s law on immigration, raising more questions and concerns. It falls on the heels of the arrest of a Mercedes Benz manager in Tuscaloosa last month… As Alabama tries with one hand to roll out the welcome mat for global corporations and international tourists, it is using the other to smack them with a harsh, confusing immigration law.”
- Mayors Understand the Toll Exacted on Alabama: Referring to the arrest of the Honda employee, the mayor of the jurisdiction that arrested the employee, Lincoln, Alabama Mayor Lew Watson said, “It is part of Alabama’s law. There is not a whole lot we can do until the Alabama legislature sees that there is a problem…They would prefer that this not happen, I am sure.” Earlier, Thomasville, Alabama Mayor Sheldon Day said the law is having a negative impact on his community’s ability to attract foreign business and investment. Mayor Day said approximately 25 foreign companies have explored bringing business to the state in the past year and, “Up until a few months ago, nobody raised the immigration issue.” However, as the Tuscaloosa News described, Mayor Day noted that “in the last few months, he said it’s brought up regularly because he believes competing states are mentioning it in their negotiations and trying to portray Alabama as unwelcoming to foreigners even though that is not the truth. From the questions he gets from industrial prospects, he also suspects competing states are recounting stories from Alabama’s civil rights past.” Said Mayor Day, “It’s bringing back old images from 40 or 50 year ago.”
- Editorial: AL Law Needs Repeal and a Resolution for a Washington Fix to Immigration: The Anniston Star editorialized today, “Sadly, Alabama’s public relations nightmare is self-inflected. The anti-immigrant bill passed with big majorities in both houses of the state Legislature. Gov. Robert Bentley did not hesitate to sign HB56 into law. Why, it was the nation’s toughest anti-immigrant law, supporters crowed. In the aftermath, decades of hard work to erase Alabama’s reputation for intolerance were seriously injured. As portions of the law are nibbled at by federal courts, the PR disaster for the state continues to unfold. Inside the state, farmers complained of crops spoiled in their fields for lack of pickers. Some school administrators balked at turning from educator to immigration-status minder. Major religious denominations took the state to court, claiming some provisions against assisting illegal immigrants violated biblical tenets of care for all. Local law enforcers expressed confusion at their precise role. Outside the state, Alabama’s competitors for economic development pile on. The not-so-subtle message is that manufacturers and their jobs should stay clear of the state lest they be tainted by association… Here’s a suggestion for the governor. When the Legislature meets in 2012, he has the opportunity to push for (a.) a repeal of HB56 and (b.) a resolution asking Washington to fix a problem of its own making.”
- Lose Industry and Incur Big Legal Fees…For What? Referring to the arrest of the Mercedes-Benz executive arrested under the immigration law, the Birmingham News wrote in an earlier editorial, “No doubt, the story of the Mercedes official’s arrest will quickly make the industry recruiting rounds. It will be used by others to smack-talk Alabama as a xenophobic state unlikely to welcome foreigners. Whether true, it doesn’t matter. That’s the atmosphere this immigration law has created. ‘We didn’t have to be the poster child,’ [David Bronner, chief of the Retirement Systems of Alabama] told The News. ‘Not only do you get all the abuse, you lose the industry and you get to pay the big legal fees. For what?’”
- Expert on Site Selection for Foreign Companies Says Alabama Has Hurt Itself Badly. According to Mark Sweeney, a consultant who helps foreign companies decide where to place plants and operations in the United States, “the South’s history of racial intolerance gives states like Alabama and South Carolina scant margin for error. The recent arrest of a Mercedes executive in Tuscaloosa as a result of the immigration law, he said, was particularly damaging to the state’s reputation. “I guarantee you they read about that in Germany, and you can only imagine what their reaction will be,” Sweeney said. “Nobody wants to be arrested. And no company wants to put its employees in that kind of situation.” Sweeney said that competing states are capitalizing on the law as they look to steal prospects from Alabama.
As Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund said, “The public deserves the chance to hear directly from Romney, Gingrich and the Republicans about their thoughts on the Alabama anti-immigrant law. It’s about time we got some answers.”
America’s Voice Education Fund — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.