Proposed immigration bill draws local debate

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

An immigration bill scheduled to be considered this year by the Alabama House of Representatives has drawn support from some locals and condemnation from others less than 24 hours after it was drafted.

House Bill 56, which was sponsored by 25 representatives, including local Reps. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, and Jim McClendon, R-Springfield, is scheduled for a first reading in the House on March 1.

If passed, the bill would “preclude any state or local government or official from refusing to enforce federal immigration laws,” and “would create specific crimes relating to the entry, presence and involvement in the economic activity of unauthorized aliens in this state and provide penalties therefore.”

The bill would allow any law enforcement, state, county, city, town or “other political subdivision” officer to verify the immigration status of a person they stop, detain or arrest “where reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an unauthorized alien.”

A person would be “presumed not to be an unauthorized alien” if they provide a valid Alabama driver’s license, a state non-driver identification card, tribal identification or, if the entity requires proof of legal presence in the United States, any valid U.S. federal, state or local government-issued identification, according to the bill.

Any illegal alien convicted of violating state or local law would be transferred to the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency.

The bill would also allow a person to bring court action against any state official or agency “that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.” The court could then fine the entity between $500-$5,000 if the entity is found guilty.

“As far as the Republican House leadership. We are serious about fulfilling our handshake promise with Alabama. One of our main issues is dealing with illegal immigration,” Canfield said. “This bill is closely modeled after the Arizona bill, and would help address the problem of those who enter Alabama on an undocumented basis.

“We fully support those who choose to go through the legal process of immigrating to our country either permanently or temporarily,” Canfield added. “But we don’t want to continue to support those who choose to enter this country illegally.”

The bill would make it illegal for “an unauthorized alien to knowingly apply for work, solicit work in a public place or perform work as an employee or independent contractor in this state,” and would make it illegal for an employer to employ an unauthorized alien.

If passed, the bill would also require an employer to verify every employee’s employment eligibility, and would prohibit illegal residents from obtaining any form of state or local public benefit.

Some local groups, such as the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama in Pelham, are outspoken opponents of the bill.

If passed, the bill would create many unfunded mandates for local governments, and would place a hardship on law enforcement agencies, said HICA Executive Director Isabel Rubio.

“It undermines citizens’ trust in local law enforcement,” Rubio said. “Local law enforcement needs to focus on what they do already, and let the federal government handle the federal law that is laid out in our U.S. Constitution.”

Rubio said the contents of the proposed bill has caused several groups and segments of the state’s population to speak out against its passage.

“There are many segments of the population that have mobilized against this,” she said. “There is a broad coalition of people that are not in favor of this at all.”