Immigration Reform

by ICP Blogger posted 9/25/2011 7:40:44 PM
Early this summer the state of Alabama followed in the footsteps of Arizona in passing a stringent anti-immigration bill. The bill, referred sometimes as House Bill 56 and at other times as the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act of 2011, requires immigration status checks for employers, allows law enforcement officials to stop people and require proof of their status under conditions of "reasonable suspicion," makes renting to or providing transportation of illegal immigrants for any reason a punishable offense, among other provisions.

While it may not be surprising that a state like Alabama, steeped in a history of racism and xenophobia, would hold principles consistent with a bill of this sort, what is surprising is that the state has taken the time and resources to bother.

What then is the real impetus for this legislation? The lawmakers that proposed HB56 publicly stated that they feel that illegal immigration is too costly to taxpayers and takes jobs away from legal residents. However, two problems with this logic exist.

First, comparatively speaking, the presence of undocumented workers in the state is minimal. Alabama is home to roughly 1% of all of the illegal immigrants in the country, hardly an imposing figure. Immigration is tied to economic opportunity, and given the comparatively limited opportunity in Alabama, it is no surprise that the numbers of illegal immigrants in the state are as low as they are as compared to other states.

Second, undocumented workers in the state of Alabama do pay taxes-- on food, housing, and transportation, but simultaneously they do not qualify for unemployment benefits or TANF, making the legislator's argument less persuasive.

So what is going on? Immigration reform is another in a series of social control issues fought over at the state level as part of the Devolution Revolution. Convinced that these social control issues would get minimal traction with national level legislative reforms, interest and legal aid groups like the Immigration Reform Law Institute have been created and funded at the national level to go into sympathetic states to try to gain traction.

The passage of HB56 in Alabama will likely have minimal effects on illegal immigration, in the nation or even in the state. But the real losers will be the people of Alabama. In the days following the passage of this legislation several groups have entered into legal action against the state. The state will have to defend the Act, and in doing so will divert precious financial resources in the form of taxpayer dollars away from needed expenses like education. As such, the unintended consequences of “reforms” such as these are far more damaging, immediately and in the future, to the citizens of this country than the actual problems the legislation aims to address.

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