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Alabama’s strict new immigration law

stedmanemily@gmail.com

 

Alabama’s immigration law went into effect on Sept. 29.

Now known as one of the toughest in the country, Alabama’s law allows law enforcement officers to ask criminal suspects for documents proving their citizenship. If the suspects are unwilling or unable to provide such documents, police officers can detain them without bail. 

In an even more extreme move, Alabama also mandates that public schools share with authorities the citizenship status of all newly enrolled students. The Superintendent of the Huntsville public schools has made a public service announcement of sorts on YouTube stressing that the student statuses will be used for statistical purposes only and not for deportation processes. 

But it is easy to imagine a situation in which that sensitive information is taken advantage of. Not only by school administration but by teachers, as well.

On one hand, a teacher might discover the illegal status of his or her student and pay more attention to him or her. The teacher might feel the need to spend extra time with a student based on his or her belief that he or she and his or her family might be deported or may not have the resources that other students have. 

On the other hand, a teacher might discover the unauthorized status of a student and use that against him or her, paying less attention to him or her because of his or her biases against illegal immigrants and their families.

Either way, this information is sensitive. Immigrant and Hispanic families are so unsure of how this and other portions of the law will be implemented and enforced that there has been a steady increase in absences amongst Hispanic students. 

As a fifth-grade teacher in the rural suburbs of Phoenix, I watched Hispanic families react to the strict Arizona law that went into effect in 2010. Through word of mouth and community organizations, the Hispanic community chose several days to pull their children out of school as a means to protest the law. 

The uncertainty regarding how law enforcement will decide when and who to ask for documents even caused several families at my school to move to other counties where the sheriff was not as notorious as Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. 

Another important side effect of these laws is their impact on agriculture. An Alabama family reported that after the law went into effect, only eight of their 48 farmhands showed up for work. 

In Georgia, where a similar law has gone into effect, Governor Nathan Deal began a temporary workers program in which parolees and probationers were sent to Georgia farms to replace fleeing immigrants. 

Georgia farmers, like their comrades in Alabama, protested the law. When the parolees came to work, they did about half the work as the former workers, not only from lack of enthusiasm and effort, but also from lack of consistent attendance. 

Many state politicians feel as though this is the only way to combat the immigrant problem their states are facing and to secure work for their constituents. But, I am not sure that the statistics align with these concerns. 

According to the 2010 census, 48.3 million Hispanics reside in the U.S., of which 31.8 million are Mexican and 11.2 million are illegal immigrants. 

36 percent of the Mexican population is foreign born, 36 percent live in California, and 25 percent live in Texas. 

In fact, while Utah, Alabama, Arizona and Georgia have enacted these harsh laws, only Arizona and Georgia are in the top 10 states with the highest portion of Hispanic immigrants. 

Some estimate that illegal immigrants cost our country upward of $113 billion dollars, of which 75 percent is absorbed by the states. 

States are pressed for cash and are receiving little support from the federal government. The laws are harsh and reactionary, but states feel as though they have little authority to deport illegal immigrants or to secure their borders. 

In this economy, politicians also feel the pressure to create jobs for their people, but when companies are not creating the jobs, leaders seem to think that laws like this are their only option. 

Emily Stedman is a second-year law student from Marietta, Ga. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyLStedman.