Hispanic group, legislators clash on state immigration bill

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Shelby County’s legislators and a local Hispanic interest group shared conflicting opinions June 9 after Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed what he called the “toughest” immigration bill in the country.

The bill makes it a crime to knowingly transport an illegal resident anywhere in the state, allows law enforcement officers to verify with the federal government a person’s legal status if the person is stopped, arrested or detained and requires all public elementary and secondary public schools to determine if a child is in the country illegally when they are enrolled for any grade.

The bill also prevents any illegal resident from enrolling in or attending any post-secondary educational institution and requires employers to verify new employees’ immigration status with the federal government before they are hired.

“I feel like the voters asked us to take a stance on illegal immigration, and I think that is what we delivered,” said state Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, who voted in favor of the bill. “To me, the biggest thing is that it is intended to reverse the flow of unauthorized aliens into Alabama.”

Fellow state Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, said she was also in favor of the bill.

“It’s a strong bill. It’s something we have to live with,” McClurkin said. “I think it will help the immigration issue tremendously.”

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the law will address an issue Alabama has been facing for many years.

“I’m happy to see it passed into law. Illegal immigration has been a growing problem in Alabama, and really the whole country for the past several years,” Ward said. “We as a state have got to step up and say ‘If you’re here illegally, you’ve got to go.’”

Although state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, voted in favor of the bill, he said he did so with some reluctance.

“I thought there were some parts of (the bill) that went too far,” Hill said. “But it will do something, because apparently the federal government is not going to do anything.

“I did support it, but with a few reservations,” Hill added. “The opponents say it won’t stand in court, and I’m anxious to see what happens.”

However, the director of the Birmingham-based Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, which has an office in Pelham, said she condemned the governor’s approval of the bill.

“House Bill 56 will cause long-lasting damage to Alabama’s economy and public safety,” said HICA Executive Director Isabel Rubio. “Furthermore, it is a slap in the face to those who have fought long and hard to move this state forward in the struggle for civil rights.

Rubio said the immigration issue should be handled on a federal level, and said she expects the Alabama law to be struck down in court.

“Though we deeply regret that our tax dollars will be spent on defending this unconstitutional law, we are confident that justice will prevail through the courts in this situation,” Rubio said.