“If fully implemented, this misguided law would turn farmers, sheriffs, businessmen, educators and other citizens into immigration agents—often against their will. And in the case of police, it requires them to judge whether there is ‘reasonable suspicion’ someone may be undocumented. What exactly entails ‘reasonable suspicion?’ Skin color? Accent?”
– Editorial, Deseret News
Alabama’s new immigration law contains provisions that will actually make Alabama law enforcement more difficult and will make all residents of Alabama less safe.
The law requires every person who is stopped, detained, or arrested by any law enforcement officer to prove their lawful status if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that they are unlawfully present in the United States. If a person is unable to produce “papers” they must be detained until their status is verified. Employers are also required to check status, and anyone “doing business” with any state agency is required to produce “papers” as well.
These measures will lead to a host of unsafe conditions for residents and authorities. Under H.B. 56:
1. Police will be forced to become immigration agents. Immigration status is a complicated matter, and local police don’t have the training or expertise to determine if someone is lawfully present. Developing this expertise will divert police from their central role, which is to protect the public and keep communities safe. Local law enforcement agencies in Alabama are already confused about how they are supposed to enforce the new law.
2. Crimes will go unreported. People who are victims of crime will not call the police if they fear that they or their loved ones will be arrested on account of their immigration status. Perpetrators of crime will be emboldened, knowing that their victims will be afraid to report them and will also be afraid to come forward if they witness a crime.
3. Victims of crime will not get protection. Those who are victims of civil violations such as breach of contract are barred by Alabama’s new law from seeking remedies in the courts. These victims will not get justice, and those who exploit them will go free and avoid any penalty or punishment.
4. Women will become more vulnerable in the home and in the workplace. Women in Georgia who face a similarly restrictive new law have reported to human rights organization that they are afraid to report sexual harassment and wage theft in the workplace, afraid to report domestic violence, and afraid to seek basic health care, all because they fear coming into contact with law enforcement and being deported.
5. Children will become less safe as they are thrown into state custody. Alabama children whose parents are jailed for failure to “show their papers” could be forced into the state foster care system. The head of one Alabama county program said that the new immigration law could put a strain on their agency and foster care programs.Jerry Groce, director of the Franklin County Department of Human Resources, believes that “In the coming months there will be an increase in Hispanic children entering foster care programs.”
6. Scarce state resources will be diverted to immigration enforcement rather than criminal law enforcement. The chief deputy of Birmingham’s Jefferson County highlighted one serious impact of the new law: “I am more concerned on where we will put the ones we detain. We have a jail built for 900 inmates that is already overcrowded and averaging 1,200 inmates a day. It’s another unfunded mandate to a county struggling to keep its head above water.”
7. Water will become less safe. Undocumented immigrants inability to get septic permits and to access public water service will make water supplies vulnerable to contamination and will make communities less safe. If residents in Alabama cannot repair or install septic tanks, for example, they will be forced to use potentially unsafe water, which could expose them and others to serious health risks such as E. coli.
8. Workplaces will become less safe. Workers who face unsafe and illegal working conditions will be afraid to report such violations to the authorities for fear of being arrested and deported themselves. The result will be unsafe working conditions for immigrants and citizens alike.
9. Service providers will be forced to become cops. All workers who provide state, county, or city services or benefits will be forced to ask for “papers please” and will have to determine whether the person seeking services is lawfully present in the United States. This law enforcement burden will divert skilled professionals from providing the services they are trained to deliver, forcing them to focus on immigration enforcement rather than community safety and service.
10. Community safety and trust will be undermined. Communities where residents have strong relationships with each other and with law enforcement are safe communities. Communities where residents live in fear, hide in the shadows, fail to report crimes, and lack trust in their neighbors and in law enforcement authorities are inherently unsafe. Tuscaloosa police report that the new law put a strain on their fragile relationship of cautious trust with the Hispanic community in less than 24 hours after going into effect.