“Fifteen years ago, Russellville was a dead town. As Hispanics moved in, everything started booming. They put a lot of money back into the community. If they leave, Russellville’s going to be hurting big time…The people who put this law into effect didn’t understand what it will do from the ground up. It’s going to end up causing a lot more trouble than they know.”
– Greg Parrish, owner of a mobile home park in Russellville, Alabama.
The unintended consequences of Alabama’s new immigration law reach deep into state and local government operations and will affect every citizen and resident of the state.
Under Alabama’s H.B. 56:
1. The state will lose significant tax revenues. Alabama’s undocumented population is estimated at only 120,000, a mere 2.5 percent of the state’s total population. But half of these individuals lived in “mixed status” families, where one or more of the family members are U.S. citizens or lawful residents. As these families flee the state, Alabama not only loses tax revenues from its undocumented workers but revenue from U.S. citizen workers who are leaving to protect their families. If the whole undocumented population alone stopped working, tax revenue losses would reach over $130 million per year. If U.S. citizen family members leave as well, tax losses grow even higher.
2. City and county financial problems will deepen. The recent bankruptcy of Alabama’s most populous county, Jefferson County, underscores the impact of new financial pressures on state and county governments and taxpayers. Officials say that the bankruptcy filing could mean higher tax rates for the 658,000 residents of the county, as well as layoffs, pension reductions, and spending cuts on services, roads, and schools. But one state official recently said, “The immigration law is much worse than Jefferson County’s bankruptcy,” pointing to loss of future revenues from the loss of businesses and taxpayers in the county and state.
3. The state pension system will be harmed. The ripple effect of damage to the state’s economy from the new immigration law will most certainly be felt by its $29 billion state pension system. The two largest funds in the state pension system cover 233,881 teachers and 138,621 state employees. The funds are already in trouble, and currently hold only about 70 percent of the funds needed to make future pension payments to retirees. The state will have a hard time contributing the money needed to help the pension plans remain financially healthy when its tax base and economy is shrinking as the result of the new immigration law.
4. Everyone will pay more for goods and services. Many businesses will be forced to close as they lose both their labor force and their customers. The cost of food also will rise as the agricultural sector loses crops due to labor shortages. Companies that stay in business will face new costs as they struggle to meet the verification requirements of the new law and struggle to find workers. The overall impact of the new law will be felt by all of the citizens and residents of Alabama.
5. Public schools will face shrinking revenues and new costs. As the new law took effect in September, schools in the state reported that thousands of Hispanic students were absent from school. While it is too soon to tell what the permanent loss will be, the public schools will face reduced revenues as school enrollment drops. They will also face heavy new costs flowing from the new law’s requirements that they document the legal status of all newly enrolling students and their parents and compile new data and financial analysis each year based on the immigration status of their students. These will have a long-lasting effect on the quality of education for every child in Alabama, especially as the school system is already reeling from unprecedented budget cuts in the state.
6. Public utilities will be hit with new costs. Alabama’s public utilities are already in trouble. They will be forced to raise rates to remain solvent as the customer base shrinks when immigrants and their citizen families leave the state. These public companies will also face increased costs due to the requirement under the new law that they verify the immigration status of any new or renewing customer. This “status check” will require additional personnel and record-keeping and contribute to rising costs for all of the citizens and residents of Alabama.
7. Law enforcement will face added costs. The state’s law enforcement budgets are already being cut. Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale has reported a $6.5 million reduction to his 2012 budget that will force him to lay off 101 deputies and close four substations. Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson cited the complexity of the new immigration law as he described his department’s efforts to develop training programs to get his officers “up to speed on the new law…a very complicated law…” In addition to training, new costs may include new equipment. A single county in Virginia estimated that it would cost $3.2 million to install cameras in its police patrol cars to ensure that no racial profiling would occur as the result of a restrictive immigration law enacted in its county. Alabama would almost certainly face higher costs.
8. Children’s services will face increased difficulties and costs. The impact of the new law will reach deep into services that state and local governments provide to their most vulnerable citizens. As parents are deported their U.S. citizen children may be left in government custody and placed in foster care. Jerry Groce, a county director of Human Resources in Alabama’s Franklin County, said, “Worst-case scenario for us would be if we had a large number of children who were suddenly dependent and had no relatives who were able and willing to take care of them. And that possibly could happen if the parents were arrested or deported suddenly.” The county current has only 25 licensed foster homes. And the state budget for fiscal year 2012 contains severe cuts that will require reductions in foster care and child protection services among other essential services.
9. State taxpayers will be burdened. Alabama citizens are already suffering from the state’s new immigration law as they are asked for “papers please” to obtain basic services including acquiring a building permit, getting their water service hooked up, renewing their mobile home permits and car registrations, and obtaining or renewing their apartment leases. Lines at the state department of motor vehicles and passport offices are growing exponentially as citizens and lawful residents seek the documents they need to “prove” that they are “lawfully” residing in the state. And the cost to Alabama families of getting the documentation they need to prove their status can be very high. While a certified copy of a birth certificate may be relatively low, families with several children can spend hundreds of dollars in passport fees.
10. Government will be diverted from its core service and public safety functions. The new immigration law fundamentally alters the function of local and state government from that of providing services and assuring public safety to enforcing immigration laws. The vast majority of Alabama citizens and residents will see their lives profoundly affected by a reduction in government services, rising costs, and reduced community safety as government employees and law enforcement personnel alike first ask for “papers” and only then consider delivering services. The alleged goal of the new immigration law—chasing out the state’s small undocumented population—will instead only burden state and local government and harm all of Alabama’s residents.