Archived Story

Immigration law debate will linger

Published 10:50pm Thursday, September 22, 2011

The 2011 Legislative Session yielded an avalanche of socially conservative legislation. Paramount on the list was a sweeping new law cracking down on illegal immigration.

Alabama’s new super majority Republican legislature steamrolled this act through the legislative labyrinth like Sherman storming through Georgia. This particular illegal immigration legislation received significant howls of outrage from the dissident Democrats as they were being run over. They argued that the bill trampled basic rights such as free speech and free travel. They told their GOP colleagues that this act could not possibly withstand constitutional muster and that it would be very costly in legal fees to the state’s beleaguered general fund to futilely defend. It looks like they may be right on both counts.

It is hard to imagine that our U.S. Congress could be accused of being prudent and wise in their decisions and deliberations. However, in hindsight it appears that there was a method to their madness in their reluctance to deal with this issue. They have stalled any action on this national problem for decades probably for obvious political reasons.

First of all, provisions of these restrictive and intrusive enforcement laws are blatantly unconstitutional. Secondly, the Hispanic population in this country is by far the fastest growing and most important voting segment of our population. The Hispanic population in this country is approaching an amazing 15 percent of our melting pot nation and is nearing 5 percent here in the good old Heart of Dixie. This pivotal Hispanic vote probably dictates the outcome of the presidential election not to mention many congressional contests in California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona.

It is in Arizona where the state’s efforts to address the problem of illegal immigration began. Other states followed suit. In addition to our initiative in Alabama, similar laws have been passed in Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges have already blocked all or parts of the laws in these other states.

Our law was set to go into effect on September 1. In late August U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn issued a temporary restraining order blocking our act from going into effect. She said she will issue a ruling by September 28. There has been a hue and cry from liberal groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and some church groups against Alabama’s law. The same scenario exists in the other states.

We will be able to get a read on our act’s constitutionality from Georgia. Their act preceded ours by four months and will be addressed by the same 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court’s preliminary rulings do not bode well for the constitutionality of these acts.

The practical enforceability of this legislation has created a nightmare for local officials. Practically every sheriff in the state has decried the law as unenforceable. Most sheriffs and city law enforcement officials have indicated that they are not going to waste their valuable time and resources enforcing this agenda. In addition, most mayors are encouraging their police departments to ignore the act. They fear a myriad of lawsuits developing with the arrest of innocent citizens who happen to have dark skin.

School boards complain that the requirement that they collect the immigration status of students is next to impossible to implement given their financial dilemma. License officials all over the state have warned that long lines will form in county courthouses because a provision of the law requires people to show proof of citizenship before buying or renewing tags. Therefore, Alabamians will be forced to buy or renew their tags in person rather than by mail or internet.

The lawsuits against our immigration law have been brought by the U.S. Justice Department, the ACLU and leaders of the Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic churches. These groups argue that the law violates federal supremacy on immigration matters and would lead to racial profiling.

Even if the state loses in federal court it appears that our state leaders are determined to pursue a vigorous appeal, which will last years and be very costly to the state. Both Governor Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange are zealous advocates of the law. They are not in the minority. Polling indicates that 68 percent of Alabamians favor the act.

It sounds logical and obvious that if we have a federal law outlining how people can legally become U.S. citizens that it should be enforced. However, the federal government has been derelict in their enforcement of the law. As stated earlier, they may know that the law is unenforceable.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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