Drunk on hubris in 2011, Alabama’s Republican lawmakers were happy to use their newfound majority status to impose a measure that played well with conservatives, the ones convinced that the state’s small illegal-immigration population was stealing our cheese. From the perspective of the Statehouse’s new management, they had very few options last year, just as they do this year. Money is in short supply. Budgets are shrinking and the suffering is felt across Alabama, even on causes favored by Republicans.
So, the Legislature latched on to immigration reform, which wouldn’t take much out of the budget unless you count legal expenses. And, hey, there’s no line in the budget for the cost to a state’s reputation.
Then the courts started chipping away at HB56’s constitutionality. A few high-profile arrests of international business executives followed. By the end of the year, business and farming interests, two usually Republican-friendly lobbies, turned up the volume on their complaints.
Without these embarrassments, it’s unlikely Goat Hill would even be revisiting immigration.
The revisions to the law currently before the state Legislature amount to little more than cosmetic surgery. Perhaps lawmakers are hoping no one will pay close attention to 2012’s modest tweaks; the public will see something has been done to erase HB56’s nasty stain and assume it’s for the better. Don’t count on it.
The anti-immigration law the Legislature passed and Gov. Robert Bentley signed in 2011 won’t be fixed by timidity and half-measures. Alabama’s nativists might not like it, but the state can’t afford to keep drifting backward toward its unpleasant past. The path forward is to repeal HB56 and in its place pass a resolution demanding Congress and the president create meaningful immigration reform.