When Republicans were a minority in the House, the GOP rode this issue for all it was worth, and in some Alabama districts, it was worth a lot. Reputable figures showing the extent of the illegal immigrant “problem” were hard to come by; as illegal immigrants, they were naturally difficult to document.
Yet, the perception that Alabamians pay for all sorts of social services for undocumented people who were taking Alabama jobs was simply too good a political ploy not to exploit.
With much fanfare, Arizona — whose problem with illegal immigrants is easier to prove — passed an immigration law last year. It allows police officers to demand proof of citizenship from people they stop for a traffic infraction and to hold offenders until immigration status can be verified.
In Alabama, politicians saw that as the solution to the problem they said existed here. Throw in a clause or two that would make it a crime to rent to or employ illegal immigrants and you have, as the Alabama bill’s sponsor, Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, put it, an act that would “discourage illegal immigrants from coming to Alabama and prevent those who are here from putting down roots.”
At least there is no ambiguity of purpose.
Opponents of the bill claimed it will lead to racial profiling, clog already-clogged jails with people waiting to be processed, place an additional burden on overworked and understaffed law enforcement, and add one more way that the state can intrude into individual’s lives. That last one carries a particular sting to small-government conservatives.
The bill now goes to the Alabama Senate. If it passes, as expected, and the governor signs it, as expected, both sides agree that the whole thing will end up in court.
That’s where Arizona’s legislation is today.
It would seem more prudent, and less expensive, if Alabama legislators would have waited until the Arizona issue is decided. Then they could craft legislation that would withstand constitutional challenges. Let a state better positioned to lead the charge do the heavy lifting.
Besides, by the time the courts have ruled, the matter may have resolved itself. As The Birmingham News reported last week, Hispanic day laborers in that city are having a hard time finding work in the current economy. Reports of fewer students in English Language Learner programs suggest that Hispanic families are moving out. And tougher restrictions on how many unrelated people can live in rental houses also seem to be having an effect.
The latest Census figures show that Alabama’s Hispanic and Latino population has grown 145 percent in the last decade, but it still represents less than 4 percent of the state’s population. Officials say that growth is fueled more by birth rates, not immigrants moving into Alabama illegally for jobs.
Unfortunately, at a time when the best policy would have been to wait and see, Alabama legislators (Republicans and more than a few Democrats, since this was a bipartisan blundering) decided to act.
Apparently, they did not want to wait and let a hot political issue cool.