Local police will begin to act as federal immigration enforcement agents by demanding proof of legal status from anyone who appears to be foreign. Public school administrators will begin checking the legal status of students and their parents. Murky new restrictions on contracts between the state government, private citizens and immigrants will begin.
Although supporters claim the law will solve Alabama’s economic problems and reduce crime, research shows that HB56 will actually do quite the opposite. This new law has the potential to inflict greater economic damage on Alabama by costing the state millions to implement and defend. And the crime argument simply doesn’t hold water. Since 1990, Alabama’s illegal immigrant population has risen from 5,000 to 120,000. Yet the violent crime rate in the state has fallen by more than a third.
Furthermore, restrictive immigration laws in other states have proven to reduce, not maximize, law enforcement effectiveness by diluting their resources.
The Alabama Legislature, even in these difficult times, failed to produce a fiscal note on the new immigration law, so the costs of the bill to the average Alabama taxpayer are unknown.
Numbers being touted by some Alabama politicians about the costs of illegal immigration are wrong and tell only half the story. While there is certainly a cost for illegal immigration, it’s important to remember unauthorized workers are taxpayers and consumers, too. In fact, they contribute a total of $130 million in income, sales and property taxes in Alabama, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington.
Also, the Perryman Group, an economic and financial analysis firm, estimated that if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Alabama, the state would lose $2.6 billion in economic activity, $1.1 billion in gross state products and approximately 17,819 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time.
Additionally, similar laws in other states have had a chilling effect on state businesses, putting state-based industries that depend heavily on foreign talent and investments at risk. Alabama-based businesses would be no exception. The Korean automaker Hyundai, for example, has brought thousands of jobs to Montgomery. The German company ThyssenKrupp has built a $3.7 billion steel mill north of Mobile that will employ 2,700 workers when it is running at full capacity.
Alabama’s new immigration law sends a clear and decidedly un-American message that many of these foreign workers who live and work in Alabama are illegal until proven legal; guilty until proven innocent.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s law enforcement agencies, which are already struggling to manage current responsibilities in tough financial times, must decide how to shoulder the extra fiscal and administrative burden created under this new law. Reports show the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has already cut 20 percent or more of its budget this year, eliminating 145 deputy positions in order to make up the $3 million missing in this quarter’s budget. According to Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson, the new law will also require officers to spend more time on basic traffic stops, not to mention potential court appearances, taking time away from solving real crimes and protecting communities.
Local schools and administrators will also have to bear the burden of enforcing Alabama’s draconian immigration law. They will be forced to spend time verifying paperwork rather than educating kids. As Principal Ed Burke of Crossville Elementary School in north Alabama told the National Education Association, “We don’t have the personnel to do all the work that is needed to find out which parents are legal. That’s my biggest concern — putting it off on the schools to police illegal immigration. I don’t think school is the place to do that; we don’t have the resources.”
There is no doubt that the federal government has failed to act on immigration. It is reasonable for Alabama legislators to look for a solution. However, HB56 in not the answer and Alabama has just entered dangerous territory.
While Alabama state legislators are responsible for this new law, they aren’t the first to be manipulated by out-of-state organizations. Anti-immigrant groups are attempting to convince state legislators that using their state and limited coffers to experiment with immigration legislation is a good idea and will win them votes. Unfortunately, it’s the communities and people of Alabama who have the most to lose when these new laws take effect. Alabama politicians should use their time and energy to force Congress to act rather than force Alabama taxpayers to pay for Congress’ inaction.
Wendy Sefsaf is communications director of the American Immigration Council in Washington. www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org