Alabama’s HB56 Immigration Law Has Professor Asking, “Why Alabama?”

on Friday, Sep. 30th

What is considered the strictest immigration law in the United States went into effect yesterday in the state of Alabama, drawing controversy from activists around the country. Among many restrictions, the law (HB56) bars undocumented immigrants from public colleges, and allows law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they stop because of a “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the United States illegally. The law comes at a time when immigration is edging its way into the spotlight during Republican debates, and DREAM Act movements gain momentum in some parts of the country.

We spoke with Doctor Byrdie Larkin, professor and coordinator of Political Science at Alabama State University, who said the law seemed out of place. “My first reaction was – why did Alabama need an immigration law? As I discussed with my students, immigration is a national issue… I don’t see Alabama as being one of those states unduly hampered by illegal immigration. As a political scientist I would have to ask, what’s the motivation?” she said.

The current administration has deported over a million undocumented immigrants, many more than the Bush administration ever did, according to Mother Jones. Larkin suspects, however, that the National Republican Party might want to distance themselves from states with extreme immigration laws like Arizona and Alabama. “I don’t know if that’s going to backfire in the presidential election. I don’t think the Republicans want to alienate the Hispanic population,” said Larkin.

Larkin is starting to see certain groups of society come forward against the law. The farmers who are traditionally conservative according to Larkin, have expressed discontent. “That’s how they get their seasonal workers. It’s interfering with the labor base for them. Farmers are very conservative, but when it comes to  nickel and dime situations they take a different stance,” she said.

Putting A Marker On Undocumented Students

Another sector that is affected by the new law is education. The law specifies that students in public schools must show proof of citizenship. Otherwise, their lack of proof will go on their official record in the form of a code. A press conference held yesterday with Larry Craven, interim state schools superintendent, explained that students must be enrolled in school, and that this data will not be used to kick students out of school. However, the law doesn’t speak to how the state will use the data.

Larkin predicts many teachers will not cooperate. “Anyone questioning their own ethics might not take it upon themselves to be an investigator of someone’s legality. Unless there are penalties,” she said.

In addition to teachers and farmers, courthouse personnel will be impacted by the law as well. “When you go in to get  your license, you have to show proof of citizenship. They don’t have the software to deal with that yet and it’s problematic. The lines are longer and there’s a delay in processing,” said Larkin.

“What you might have… is a backlash of the public as [the law] effects our lifestyle and normal life. Every segment of society is impacted,” she said.

“I’m the first to say you need some form of identification to know who’s in the country,” said Larkin. But she does not see the Alabama law having that big of an impact on the national conversation, like it would in a state like California or Texas that has a larger immigrant population.

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