The state of Alabama has passed a draconian and unjust immigration law, HB 56, that goes even beyond Arizona’s notorious HB 1070, which a federal court has ruled for the most part unconstitutional.
Alabama joins several other states such as Georgia that have also recently passed anti-immigrant laws aimed at undocumented workers and their families. But, at the moment, the Alabama law surpasses all of these others in its viciousness and callous disregard not only for constitutional rights but human rights and a sense of human justice.
The Constitution? I can just hear my right-wing critics raising their blood pressure. Yes, the Constitution! The Constitution protects not only the rights of U.S. citizens but also all “persons” living within the country, even the undocumented.
Here are some of the key provisions of the Alabama law and some of the problems with them.
- It requires local police in stopping anyone that they suspect may be breaking the law to inquire about their citizenship status. The problem here is that the police will engage in racial profiling in that in most cases they are going to make citizenship inquiries only for those who look “Latino.”
- It outlaws undocumented workers from receiving any state or local public benefits. This is already the case in most if not all states and so it’s a redundant provision but what it fails to note is that the undocumented through sales taxes and indirectly paying property taxes if they are renters are helping to fund these services even if they can’t benefit from them. Moreover, where is the sense of humanity in helping our fellow human beings if they are in need? Where is the Catholic/Christian human sensitivity? Are the undocumented not also created in the likeness of God?
- It bars the undocumented from enrolling in or attending public colleges. This would unfairly affect, for example, many children of undocumented immigrants who through no fault of their own have no documents but who have lived almost all of their lives in this country. For all practical effects, they are Americans. In addition, many adult undocumented immigrants enroll in community colleges in order to learn English so that they can better integrate in our society. So much for those who argue that undocumented immigrants and other Latino immigrants do not want to become part of us. Moreover, by enrolling in these schools they are helping to sustain them as well through their tuition payments.
- It prohibits the undocumented from applying for or soliciting work. The right to work to sustain oneself and one’s family is a human right and one recognized by the Catholic Church. Alabama argues that the undocumented take jobs from real Americans. However, the fact -- well documented -- is that most Americans including African-Americans and U.S. born Latinos will not do the hard and dirty work that undocumented immigrants perform such as farm labor and food processing that pay very low wages with no benefits. It the Alabama law is aimed at dealing with unemployment it is a bogus law.
- It forbids the harboring and transport of undocumented immigrants. This if fine as it applies to human smugglers but it is too broad so that any U.S. citizen driving their undocumented domestics or baby sitters can be prosecuted under this law. It would also unjustly prosecute Catholic and other clergy who help feed and care for the undocumented. Again, where is the sense of human kindness?
- It outlaws renting property to the undocumented. Yet the right to shelter is a human right. Do we not remember the search by Mary and Joseph for shelter?
- It makes it illegal for anyone to “knowingly” hiring an undocumented worker. This is already federal law and therefore redundant but the “knowingly” clause is in reality a hypocrisy that allows employers including probably Alabama legislators to hire the undocumented by the claim that they “thought” or had “checked” that these workers were legal.
- It makes it a discriminatory practice to fire or decline to hire a legal resident when an illegal is on the payroll. Again, very few Americans will do the work that the undocumented do because, for example, they can get more money through unemployment compensation that through the meager wages paid in these “undocumented jobs.” It is also a status issue. Americans don’t want to do “undocumented immigrant jobs.”
- It requires a citizenship check for people registering to vote. This is an anti-democratic measure that will only serve to intimidate many legal Latinos and others from registering to vote because it is they who will be the most scrutinized and so racial profiling will be involved. Moreover, how do you prove that you are a U.S. citizen? A driver’s license? That’s not proof of citizenship. How many of us carry our birth certificate with us and even if Latinos did some “birthers” might still challenge the authenticity of their documents. On driver’s licenses, it is ironic that Alabama in fact is a state that allows the undocumented to apply for drivers licenses.
- Most disturbing is that the law requires school officials in the public schools to determine whether students are undocumented immigrants or not. While undocumented would not be banned from the schools, the schools would still need to report the number of students that they suspect are undocumented. This is simply an intimidation measure aimed at discouraging undocumented parents from sending their children not born in the U.S. to school. It also unfairly makes teachers into immigrant officials and by so doing injure the trust that is needed between teachers and students in the learning process. And how in practical terms will school officials be able to determine the legal status of their students? Driver’s licenses? For kindergartners? Who are they kidding?
This unjust and impractical Alabama law unfortunately mirrors the vicious nativism and anti-democratic feelings that too often accompany insecurities among some Americans. The Great Recession is part of this. The changing demographics of the country is part of this (“ I want my country back!”-- as if only white people owned this country).
We all need scapegoats for what is making us scared or insecure. But blaming all of our problems or many of them on immigrants is not right or just. How about focusing on the unjustness of employers, businesses, and industries not paying good and living wages in order for most Americans to not only care for themselves but in the process sustain the economy by their consumption.
It is the greed of employers that is the cause of much of our economic problems. Using immigrants as punching bags won’t deal with our fundamental problems of economic inequity in this country.