Uncertainty Lingers in Wake of Alabama Immigration Law
When Alabama’s immigration law went into effect in September, it sent shock waves throughout Hispanic communities within the state. Whole families left overnight, parents pulled their children out of school and city centers became ghost towns as legal and illegal immigrants alike hid from police.
In the months since, a number of illegal immigrants who fled have returned.
“Little by little, it’s been calming down,” said Gaby Sullivan, a legal immigrant from Mexico who has been helping community groups in the southern city of Robertsdale.
But as Republican legislative leaders promise only minor adjustments to the law and an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on portions of the law set for March 1, Hispanics are still living “with one foot out of the state, ready to flee for good,” Sullivan said.
Evelyn Servin, director of the North Alabama Hispanic Coalition for Equal Rights, said many of the Hispanic people who work in poultry plants around Russellville have completely changed their way of life to avoid running into police.
“People are still afraid to go out,” Servin said. “Many of them go grocery shopping at night when they can’t be seen in their cars. A lot of them are just staying home and not going anywhere.”
Alabama followed Arizona’s lead by passing a law last year aimed at making everyday life difficult for the state’s estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants. The Alabama law, known as H.B. 56, allowed local police to check the immigration status of people stopped for other crimes, required public school officials to collect data on the number of illegal immigrants enrolling, and forbade illegal immigrants from entering into private contracts or conducting any business with the state.
Federal courts blocked some portions of the law, including the immigration checks at schools. But unlike judges in Arizona and other states who have barred police from checking immigration status during routine stops, U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn in Birmingham allowed the police enforcement provision to go into effect in September.
The effects of those rulings are widespread.
A University of Alabama study released in January found that the law could cost the state up to $10.8 billion per year — a combination of losing up to 80,000 illegal immigrants who earn and spend money in the state, lost local and state tax revenue, and the costs to enforce and defend the law in court.
Even though schools are now barred from checking the immigration status of new students, parents continue to keep their children out of schools.