The new immigration law in Alabama is Arizona's bill on steroids. Why don't people seem to care?
Yesterday, Alabama signed HB 56 into law. “This is an Arizona bill with an Alabama twist,” Alabama Rep. Micky Hammon, one of the bill’s proponents, said. In other words, it's the harshest crackdown on undocumented immigrants in the country. But what I want to know is: Where's the outrage?
That "twist" means that it has all the elements of Arizona's controversial Senate Bill 1070, and then some. Like Arizona, police will have to investigate and detain anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe may be here illegally. It says that hiring, renting property, or giving public benefits to an undocumented immigrant is illegal. But the bill goes beyond 1070 in that undocumented immigrants who enter into any kind of contract would not be able to have that contract enforced. And primary and secondary schools will have to verify the immigration status of students and parents with an affidavit.
This bill extends its reach to virtually every part of undocumented immigrants' lives, and organizations like the ACLU say they'll fight back. Yet, unlike the deafening national outcry against Arizona's law last year, regular people don't seem very upset.
The most obvious reason why the news has been quieter is that HB 56 is sure to face a legal challenge. After the hoopla surrounding Arizona's law, it's been stalled indefinitely by a federal judge with no updates since July. Georgia signed a similar law and was slapped with legal opposition. Also, the rest of the country doesn't have much leverage against Alabama. No gorgeous state parks, no resorts, no booming golf economy, no NBA or major league baseball team. It's not like an Alabama boycott would leave their economy in shambles.
But Alabama also lacks a critical mass of immigrants, documented or no, who would be directly affected by this bill. Alabama, like other Southeastern states, has attracted a much bigger unauthorized immigrant population in the last decade or two because of job opportunities (though the rate has slowed down since the recession). But it's no New York or Texas or California. They're certainly there, but they're not an unavoidable force.
Alabama's estimated population of undocumented immigrants is nowhere near that of Arizona's—about 100,000 (as opposed to Arizona's half a million). A 2009 report by the Pew Hispanic Center found this population to be only about 3 percent of the workforce in Alabama. The state isn't even in the top 10 states with the most undocumented immigrants.
The state also lacks a good amount of lefty allies who would speak out against the law. Arizona isn't a bastion of liberal thought, but it's more polarized than Alabama, which, according to a Gallup poll, is the third most conservative state in the country.
So is this just political posturing on Alabama's part? Probably. But that doesn't mean it won't affect people, or that we should leave it up to the ACLU and federal judges to tackle this problem. Even if it does get stalled in court—and it most likely will—it will continue to instill fear about the dangers of "illegals." It certainly worked in Arizona. When I went there on assignment last year during the midterm elections, the air was thick with paranoia. Immigrants were to blame for everything—unemployment, wasteful spending, crime, you name it. It puts a mark on a state's culture, regardless of the law.
But victories like the one against a bill in Kentucky show that even incredibly conservative states can organize against racist and fear-mongering bills. Take a hint from the Capitol Nine and stage an act of civil disobedience. Create or join local solidarity groups. Challenge your favorite celebrity on Twitter to speak out against the law (that shit really works!). It's too late to defeat Alabama's bill in the legislature, but it's not too late to make some noise.