This week, NPR is airing a series of reports on the state of US immigration and the prospects for reform in 2013. In the latest segment, Debbie Elliott looks at Alabama’s worst-in-the-nation anti-immigrant law HB 56, which was first implemented just over a year ago and still has consequences today. Here’s an excerpt from the report:
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Melisio has long dark curls and is wearing a houndstooth scarf in support of the Alabama Crimson Tide. She snuck into the U.S. from Mexico with her mother when she was 7 years old. She still has a scar on her back from crawling under the border fence. It’s a story she’s kept secret until now.
ELLIOTT: Now, Melisio finds herself caught between state and federal immigration policy. Other Hispanic-owned stores in this part of south Alabama closed soon after the state passed what is considered to be the toughest immigration law in the country last year. And farmers complained they couldn’t find enough migrant workers to harvest their crops.
Like Arizona, Alabama’s law calls for police to detain suspects on a reasonable suspicion that they are in the country illegally. But Alabama went further, making it a crime for undocumented to conduct any matter of business, whether private or with government agencies. It also required schools to collect information on the immigration status of enrolling students and their parents. Melisio dropped out of 11th grade when the law passed. Even though it was intended to apply only to new students, her mother was afraid to send her to class.
MELISIO: She thought that, you know, the police would come to school and try to find out who was illegal, and they might send me back. So she was scared, and she just didn’t want me to go.
ELLIOTT: Even after courts struck down Alabama’s school provision, Melisio says she was ashamed to return. Now, she needs that high school diploma to qualify under President’s Obama’s policy that allows young, illegal immigrants to avoid deportation if they go to college or work. Several rights advocates say laws like Alabama’s have created a host of problems, but haven’t really addressed the question of illegal immigration. Attorney Tomas Lopez is with the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of several groups that have sued to stop the state laws.
TOMAS LOPEZ: They do infinitely more harm than good. And this kind of response, this, you know, let’s deal first with driving people out is not the way to deal with the really complicated questions that, you know, are sort of tied up in immigration policy.
Despite everything that’s happened in Alabama–the millions spent in legal fees, the avalanche of bad publicity, the labor shortages, the crop losses, the reports finding that HB 56 could cost the state as much as $11 billion in economic output–HB 56 sponsor and state senator Scott Beason apparently still believes that passing the law was the right thing to do:
STATE SENATOR SCOTT BEASON: I think we did what we intended to do. We did see apparently thousands of illegal aliens leave the state. It did open up jobs for a number of Alabamians, which is – which was really our main goal.