Whew, a between-the-lines reading of the official press release indicates, we’ve found a way to keep our ill-considered anti-illegal immigrant law and not anger constituents who would otherwise be subject to a “papers, please” delay in picking up car tags.
Gov. Robert Bentley called the system he unveiled Monday “a much-needed solution to the citizenship requirements required by the new immigration law.” Translation: The state has found a work-around for one problem of the hastily contrived and mean-spirited law it created earlier this year. The law has yet to take effect; it’s suspended until a federal judge rules on a lawsuit against it. U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn is expected to weigh in on the constitutionality of the law this week.
If it is OK’d by Blackburn, representatives of county tag offices say they will implement ALVerify, a database that state officials say can quickly verify citizenship of most applicants. Without it, long lines were predicted, as courthouse staffers were expected to proceed with the time-consuming task of checking citizenship by requiring physical proof from vehicle owners.
One of the law’s Statehouse sponsors, Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said, “This is the type of solution we knew we would be able to find to address questions with this law.”
Several points leap to mind with this new development.
The first is that all this self-congratulation from state Republicans overlooks that the tag problem was one of their own creation. In the rush to bash illegal immigrants, they neglected to pay attention to the fine details; for instance, passing a law that puts a heavy burden on tag-users and courthouse personnel.
The second is potentially pacifying Alabamians unhappy with the prospect of long wait-times at the tag office doesn’t cover all the law’s flaws. The lawsuit filed by church leaders representing Alabama Methodists, Episcopals and Roman Catholics is one example. They argue that the law’s prohibition against assisting illegal immigrants is an interference of their First Amendment rights to worship freely and their Biblical duties to minister to all people.
The law “aims to shut the doors of our churches and social ministries, against our wills, to a whole class of people, denying them access to such basic human needs as food, clothing, shelter and, most importantly, worship of God,” said Bishop Robert J. Baker of the Birmingham Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Alabama. In other words, no database will serve the best impulses of a Good Samaritan, who instinctively reaches out to help a child of God before asking the details of citizenship.
Lastly, we return to the matter of scale. Reputable estimates say that 2.5 percent of the state’s residents are here illegally. Similarly reliable statistics tell us that 25 percent of Alabama’s adult population is functionally illiterate. If the state is going to devote its time, energy and money to a cause, it ought to be in helping the 25 percent who need assistance in reading.