Alabama judge casts doubt on harsh new illegal immigration law
A federal court judge in Alabama Wednesday raised questions about whether a recent state law restricting illegal immigration has constitutional merit.
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Sen. Beason said illegal immigrants are displacing jobs from legal state residents, and the federal government has failed to step in to help.Skip to next paragraph
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Lawmakers intentionally wrote a broad bill to impress upon their constituents that they are concerned about the economy in the region. The law's sponsors expect “to keep going back to the well and seeing whether they can craft [a law] that will get over the federal hurdle,” says Paul Horwitz, a constitutional law expert at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa.
“This is an ongoing state-by-state effort either to make a statement about federal immigration law or to make a political statement,” Mr. Horwitz says.
Despite Alabama’s relatively low ranking, the rate of illegal immigrants in the state has increased rapidly over the past ten years. Between 2000-2010, the number of illegal immigrants in Alabama rose 380 percent, from 25,000 to 120,000. Today, undocumented immigrants represent 2.5 percent of the total state population.
The increase is part of a larger migration pattern that started a decade earlier. While illegal immigrants from Mexico remain highest in border states such as California, Nevada and Arizona, rates have declined in recent years as more workers have transitioned to the Midwest and Southeast. “They went where they could find jobs,” says Jeff Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center. “That changed the direction of new migration to the US.”
Because the illegal immigrants in Alabama were largely absent decades ago — just 5,000 people in 1990 according to Pew — the issue is only gaining notice because it is becoming more visible. “It’s still really quite small but it’s a group that wasn’t there 20 years ago,” Mr. Passel says.
There is concern among second and third generation Hispanics in the state that the new law will be discriminatory against them, despite their legal status, which may result in sending them to other states to look for work. Critics say the law is written to single out any Hispanic whenever they are forced to interact with state authorities, whether applying for a driver’s license or waiting at a stop light.
“It’s going to cause a lot of legal immigrants a lot of grief,” says Michael Innis Jimenez, a historian who studies Latino immigration and labor at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. “Why stay in this state when you can get pulled over and harassed? That’s going to be a big issue.”
Illegal workers in Alabama represent 4.2 percent of the state’s labor force. The state’s unemployment rate reached 10 percent in July, according to the Alabama Industrial Relations Department.
While the bill’s sponsors say illegal immigrants are taking jobs from legal residents, some Alabama farmers say it is difficult to find documented workers willing to work in conditions such as extreme heat during planting and harvesting seasons.
Mr. Jimenez says that reality will also affect the construction market, which is now booming following the devastating tornados that stormed through the state in April.
“Right now there’s a shortage of workers and they’re scaring off a lot of workers,” he says.