It’s early yet for a full accounting of the economic damage Alabama has done to
itself with its radical new immigration law.
Farmers can tally the cost of crops left to rot as workers flee. Governments can
calculate the loss of revenues when taxpayers flee. It’s harder to measure the
price of a ruined business reputation or the value of investments lost or
productivity lost as Alabamians stand in line for hours to prove their
citizenship in any transaction with the government. Or what the state will
ultimately spend fighting off an onslaught of lawsuits, or training and
deploying police officers in the widening immigrant dragnet, or paying the cost
of diverting scarce resources away from fighting real crimes.
A growing number of Alabamians say the price will be too high, and there is
compelling evidence that they are right. Alabama is already at the low end of
states in employment and economic vitality. It has long struggled to lure good
jobs and shed a history of racial intolerance.
That was turning around and many foreign manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz,
Hyundai and Honda, have set up there. Its business-friendly reputation took a
serious blow with the arrest in Tuscaloosa of a visiting Mercedes manager who
was caught driving without his license and taken to jail as a potential illegal
Sheldon Day, the mayor of Thomasville, has aggressively recruited foreign
companies to his town, including a Chinese company — Golden Dragon Precise
Copper Tube Group — that plans to build a $100 million plant there, with more
than 300 jobs.
Mayor Day is now worried about that project and future prospects. He was quoted
by The Press-Register in Mobile as saying business inquiries had dried up since
the law was passed. “I know the immigration issue is being used against us.”
Alabama’s competitors certainly won’t waste any time. After the Tuscaloosa
incident, the editorial page of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch invited Mercedes to
Missouri. “We are the Show-Me State,” it said, “not the ‘Show me your papers’
Undocumented immigrants make up about 4.2 percent of Alabama’s work force, or
95,000 people in a state of 4.8 million. For all of the talk about clearing the
way for unemployed Americans, there is no evidence that Alabamians in any
significant numbers are rushing to fill the gap left by missing farm laborers
and other low-wage immigrant workers.
The loss of job-filling, tax-paying workers may get even worse if Alabama is
allowed to enforce a law requiring people who own or rent a trailer home to
obtain an annual registration sticker. This puts the undocumented in a Catch-22
— criminals if they don’t have a sticker, criminals if they try to get one. For
now, a judge has issued an order blocking enforcement. But if the state wins,
many thousands may simply join the exodus, tearing more shreds in the economy.
The law’s damage is particularly heartbreaking in poor towns across the state,
where small businesses are the economic lifeblood. We’ve spoken with Latino
shopkeepers and restaurant owners in places like Albertville who say business is
catastrophically down, with customers in hiding or flight. The situation isn’t
much better in Huntsville and Birmingham.
There should be no doubt about the moral repugnance of Alabama’s law, which
seeks to deny hardworking families the means to live. But even some of the law’s
most enthusiastic supporters are beginning to acknowledge the law’s high
economic cost. There is growing talk of revising or repealing the legislation.
The sooner Alabama does so — and other states learn — the better.
Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law, the nation’s harshest, went
into effect last month (a few provisions have been temporarily blocked in
federal court), and it is already reaping a bitter harvest of dislocation and
fear. Hispanic homes are emptying, businesses are closing, employers are
wondering where their workers have gone. Parents who have not yet figured out
where to go are lying low and keeping children home from school.
To the law’s architects and supporters, this is excellent news. “You’re
encouraging people to comply with the law on their own,” said Kris Kobach, the
Kansas secretary of state, who has a side career of drafting extremist
immigration legislation for states and cities, notoriously in Arizona and now in
Alabama’s law is the biggest test yet for “attrition through enforcement,” a
strategy espoused by Mr. Kobach and others to drive away large numbers of
illegal immigrants without the hassle and expense of a police-state roundup. All
you have to do, they say, is make life hard enough and immigrants will leave on
their own. In such a scheme, panic and fear are a plus; suffering is the point.
The pain isn’t felt just by the undocumented. Legal immigrants and native-born
Alabamans who happen to be or look Hispanic are now far more vulnerable to
officially sanctioned harassment. Many of those children being kept home from
school by frightened parents are born and bred Americans.
The problems do not stop there. Farmers are already worrying that with the
exodus, crops will go unpicked. Like much of the rest of the country, Alabama
needs immigrant labor, because too many native-born citizens lack the skill, the
stamina and the willingness to work in the fields — even in a time of steep
The new law has also added frustrating layers of paperwork for Alabamans who
must now prove legal status when enrolling schoolchildren, signing leases and
interacting with government. After the law went into effect, the lines at the
Department of Motor Vehicles in Birmingham grew so long that officials had to
bring in portable toilets.
Alabama’s reputation has also taken a huge hit just when it is trying to lure
international businesses. No matter how officials may try to tempt foreign
automakers, say, with low taxes and wages, the state is already infamous as a
regional capital of xenophobia.
If Alabama succeeds in driving out all of its estimated 120,000 unauthorized
immigrants, restrictionists will surely cheer. They will have only 49 states and
11 million more people to go.
There is another more humane and realistic path in which immigrants could earn
the right to stay — if Congress would accept its responsibility and move ahead
with serious immigration reform. America’s history shows that assimilation works
better than deportation — for everyone. If first-generation immigrants don’t all
learn English, their children and grandchildren invariably do. They may be poor,
but their children grow up to be productive citizen taxpayers. Unless, of
course, you frighten and oppress them, and forbid them to work, live and go to
Other states that are tempted to follow should look at what is happening in
Alabama. Nobody is winning there.
Only about 3.5 percent of Alabama’s population is
foreign-born, according to the Census Bureau. Undocumented immigrants made up
roughly 4.2 percent of its work force in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic
Center. But the drafters of Alabama’s harsh immigration law wanted to turn their
state into the country’s most hostile territory for illegal immigrants. They are
succeeding, as many of Alabama’s most vulnerable residents can attest.
The law went into effect over the weekend, after being largely upheld by a
federal district judge. Volunteers on an immigrant-rights group’s hot line said
that since then they have received more than 1,000 calls from pregnant women
afraid to go to the hospital, crime victims afraid to go the police, parents
afraid to send their children to school.
School superintendents and principals across the state confirm that attendance
of Hispanic children has dropped noticeably since the word went out that school
officials are now required to check the immigration status of newly enrolled
students and their parents.
That rule is part of the law’s sweeping attempt to curtail the rights and
complicate the lives of people without papers, making them unable to enter
contracts, find jobs, rent homes or access government services. In other words,
to be isolated, unemployable, poor, defenseless and uneducated.
The education crackdown is particularly senseless and unconstitutional. In 1982,
the Supreme Court found that all children living in the United States have the
right to a public education, whatever their immigration status. The justices’
reasoning was shaped not by compassion but practicality: it does the country no
good to perpetuate an uneducated underclass.
Officials in Alabama — some well meaning, others less so — insisted that nothing
in the new law is intended to deny children an education. School districts, they
noted, are supposed to collect only numbers of children without papers, not
“I don’t know where the misinformation’s coming from,” Alabama’s interim state
school superintendent, Larry Craven, told NPR. “If you have difficulty
understanding the language anyway, then who knows what they’re being told?” With
comments like that, it’s not surprising that any of “them” would be frightened.
The Obama administration was right to sue to try to stop the Alabama law. It
needs to press ahead with its appeal of the ruling and challenge similar laws in
Utah, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina.
President Obama needs to show stronger leadership in defending core American
values in the face of the hostility that has overtaken Alabama and so many other
states. He can start by scrapping the Secure Communities program, which
encourages local immigration dragnets and reinforces the false notion that most
undocumented immigrants pose a threat to this country’s security.
As for Alabama, one has to wonder at such counterproductive cruelty. Do
Alabamans want children too frightened to go to school? Or pregnant women too
frightened to seek care? Whom could that possibly benefit?
September 28, 2011
The New York Times
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
WASHINGTON — The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency
announced on Wednesday that it had arrested 2,901 immigrants who have criminal
records, highlighting the Obama administration’s policy of focusing on such
people while putting less emphasis on deporting illegal immigrants who pose no
demonstrated threat to public safety.
Officials from the agency portrayed the seven-day sweep, called Operation Cross
Check, as the largest enforcement and removal operation in its history. It
involved arrests in all 50 states of criminal offenders of 115 nationalities,
including people convicted of manslaughter, armed robbery, aggravated assault
and sex crimes.
“These are not people who are making a positive contribution to their
communities,” said the agency’s director, John Morton. “They are not the kind of
people we want walking our streets.”
More than 1,600 of those arrested had been convicted of a felony. The remainder
had a misdemeanor conviction for matters like theft, forgery and driving while
intoxicated, the agency said. Those arrested included illegal immigrants and
lawful resident noncitizens who had been convicted of crimes that made them
eligible to be deported.
The agency did not release the names of all the people arrested. But a sampling
that showed the geographical breadth of the operation included one person from
the New York City area: Virgilio Lopez-Ruiz, a 54-year-old Dominican who was
living in the Bronx. He had been convicted on Nov. 16, 1988, of second-degree
attempted murder, it said. It did not provide his immigration status.
Mr. Morton issued a memo in June suggesting that the agency should place a
priority on deporting noncitizen criminals like drug dealers and gang members,
as well as people who have flagrantly violated immigration laws, for example by
ignoring deportation orders or re-entering the country after being removed.
Under that approach, it would give less emphasis to removing illegal immigrants
who are not a public safety or national security threat.
In August, the White House essentially ratified that approach, announcing that
the Department of Homeland Security would, on a case-by-case basis, suspend
deportation proceedings against people who posed no public safety threat. The
policy shift has been criticized by some Republicans as a backdoor form of the
so-called Dream Act — a bill, which has stalled in Congress, that would provide
relief to illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children
and who want to attend college or join the armed forces.
But Mr. Morton said Wednesday that there were far more illegal immigrants in the
United States than the agency has the resources to remove. He said that the
agency has been deporting about 390,000 people annually for the past several
years, a record level, and that the question is who those people should be. In
2008, he said, about a third were criminal offenders, but this year about half
have been, and the majority of the remainder have been flagrant violators of
Alabama has passed a sweeping bill to crack down on illegal
immigrants that both supporters and opponents call the toughest of its kind in
the country, going well beyond a law Arizona passed last year that caused a
The measure was passed by large margins in the Alabama Senate and the House,
both Republican-controlled, in votes on Thursday. Governor Robert Bentley, a
Republican, is expected to sign the bill into law.
“Alabama is now the new No. 1 state for immigration enforcement,” said Kris
Kobach, a constitutional lawyer who is secretary of state in Kansas. He has
helped write many state bills to curtail illegal immigration, including
“This bill invites discrimination into every aspect of the lives of people in
Alabama,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the immigrants’ rights project of the
American Civil Liberties Union, which has brought legal challenges against
several state immigration-control laws. Calling Alabama’s bill “outrageous and
blatantly unconstitutional,” Ms. Wang said, “We will take action if the governor
The Alabama bill includes a provision similar to one that stirred controversy in
Arizona, authorizing state and local police officers to ask about the
immigration status of anyone they stop based on a “reasonable suspicion” the
person is an illegal immigrant. Federal courts have suspended most of that
Alabama’s bill goes beyond Arizona’s. It bars illegal immigrants from enrolling
in any public college after high school. It obliges public schools to determine
the immigration status of all students, requiring parents of foreign-born
students to report the immigration status of their children.
The bill requires Alabama’s public schools to publish figures on the number of
immigrants — both legal and illegal — who are enrolled and on any costs
associated with the education of illegal immigrant children.
The bill, known as H.B. 56, also makes it a crime to knowingly rent housing to
an illegal immigrant. It bars businesses from taking tax deductions on wages
paid to unauthorized immigrants.
“This is a jobs-creation bill for Americans,” said Representative Micky Hammon,
a Republican who was a chief sponsor of the bill. “We really want to prevent
illegal immigrants from coming to Alabama and to prevent those who are here from
putting down roots,” he said.
The Alabama bill comes at the end of a legislative season when many states
wrestled with immigration crackdown proposals. Measures focusing only on
enforcement failed in 16 states, according to a tally by the National
Immigration Forum in Washington, a group opposing such laws.
In May, Georgia adopted a tough enforcement law, which civil rights groups filed
a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to stop. Proponents of state immigration
enforcement laws won a major victory last week when the Supreme Court upheld a
2007 law in Arizona imposing penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Alabama’s law includes some provisions similar to the Arizona statute that
courts rejected as incursions on legal terrain reserved for the federal
government. But Michael Hethmon, general counsel of the Immigration Reform Law
Institute in Washington, said the Alabama bill was a compendium of measures
against illegal immigrants that his group had tested in other states. Mr.
Hethmon’s group is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration
Reform, which seeks to reduce immigration.
The bill requires all Alabama employers to use a federal system, E-Verify, to
confirm the legal status of all workers. The measure also makes it a state crime
for an immigrant to fail to carry a document proving legal status, and makes it
a crime for anyone to transport an illegal immigrant.
PHOENIX — A federal judge on Wednesday blocked the most
controversial parts of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law from going into
effect, a ruling that at least temporarily squashed a state policy that had
inflamed the national debate over immigration.
Judge Susan Bolton of Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction
against sections of the law, scheduled to take effect on Thursday, that called
for police officers to check a person’s immigration status while enforcing other
laws and required immigrants to prove that they were authorized to be in the
country or risk state charges. She issued the injunction in response to a legal
challenge brought against the law by the Obama administration.
A spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who signed the law and has
campaigned on it for election to a full term, said Wednesday that the governor
would appeal the injunction on Thursday and ask for a speedy review. Legal
experts predicted that the case could end up before the Supreme Court.
The law, designed to seek and deport illegal immigrants in a state that is the
principal gateway for illegal border crossers, had provoked intense debate from
coast to coast, drawing support in several polls but generating boycotts of the
state by major civil rights groups and several cities and towns.
It renewed calls for an overhaul of federal immigration law and led to repeated
rebukes of it from President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who
maintained that immigration policy is under the purview of the federal
government, not individual states. The Mexican government, joined by seven other
Latin American nations, supported one of the lawsuits against the law; the
attorneys general of several states backed Arizona.
The ruling came four days before 1,200 National Guard members were scheduled to
report to the Southwest border to assist federal and local law enforcement
agencies there, part of the Obama administration’s response to growing anxiety
over the border and immigration that has fed support for the law.
Judge Bolton, appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, did allow some,
less debated provisions of the law to go into effect, including one that bans
cities from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
But she largely sided with arguments in a lawsuit by the Obama administration
that the law, rather than closely hewing to existing federal statutes, as its
supporters have claimed, interferes with longstanding federal authority over
immigration and could lead to harassment of citizens and legal immigrants.
“Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than
allowing state laws that are likely pre-empted by federal law to be enforced,”
“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal
resident aliens,” she wrote. “By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose,”
she said, citing a previous Supreme Court case, a “ ‘distinct, unusual and
extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government
has the authority to impose.”
The judge’s decision was not her final word on the case. In granting the
injunction, she simply indicated that the Justice Department was likely, but not
certain, to prevail on those points at a later trial in federal court. She made
no ruling on the six other suits that also challenged the law.
Her ruling, issued as demonstrators both for and against the law gathered here,
and after hearings in three of the seven lawsuits against the it, seemed more
likely to add another log to the fire than settle matters.
“This fight is far from over,” said Ms. Brewer, whose lawyers had argued that
Congress granted states the power to enforce immigration law particularly when,
in their view, the federal government fell short. “In fact,” she added, “it is
just the beginning, and at the end of what is certain to be a long legal
struggle, Arizona will prevail in its right to protect our citizens.”
State Senator Russell Pearce, a Republican and chief sponsor of the law, said in
a statement that he was confident that the sections blocked by Judge Bolton
would survive on appeal, noting the state’s previous victories in court on other
statutes designed to give it a larger role in immigration enforcement. “The
courts have made it clear states have the inherent power to enforce the laws of
this country,” he said.
But Gabriel Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona School of Law who has
studied the law, called the ruling “a nearly complete victory for the position
of the United States.”
He noted that she ruled in the federal government’s favor on most of the points
Aside from stopping the requirement that the police initiate immigration checks,
the judge also blocked provisions that allowed the police to hold anyone
arrested for any crime until his immigration status was determined.
“Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the
immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully present
aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked,”
She also said Arizona could not make it a state crime for noncitizens to be in
the state without proper documents, nor could it allow the police to conduct
arrests without warrants if officers believed the offense would result in their
deportation. She said there was a “substantial likelihood” of wrongful arrests.
The parts of the law she did allow were not challenged by the Justice
Department, but do figure in some of the other lawsuits filed. They include
forbidding “sanctuary city” policies by allowing residents to sue the local
authorities if they adopt policies restricting cooperation with the federal
government in immigration enforcement.
She also let stand a provision aimed at day laborers, who are mostly Latin
American immigrants, by making it a crime to stop a vehicle in traffic or block
traffic to hire someone off the street. But she blocked a provision that barred
illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places.
The law, adopted in April, coincided with economic anxiety and followed a number
of high-profile crimes attributed to illegal immigrants and smuggling. It has
become an issue in Congressional and local campaigns across the country.
Terry Goddard, the Arizona attorney general who opposed the law and is a
possible Democratic opponent to Ms. Brewer, was quick to condemn her for signing
it. “Jan Brewer played politics with immigration, and she lost,” he said in a
But Republican candidates, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is
seeking re-election, criticized the Obama administration for bringing suit.
“Instead of wasting taxpayer resources filing a lawsuit against Arizona and
complaining that the law would be burdensome,” Mr. McCain said in a joint
statement with Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, “the Obama administration
should have focused its efforts on working with Congress to provide the
necessary resources to support the state in its efforts to act where the federal
government has failed to take responsibility.”