Alabama makes Arizona’s SB 1070 look tame

Arizona generated quite a bit of attention last year when state policymakers approved a radical anti-immigrant measure known as SB 1070. Legal challenges to the law are still underway.

What’s generating far less attention is the fact other states are in the process of going even further. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R), for example, signed a sweeping new anti-immigrant measure into law this week, after it was approved by a Republican-dominated legislature, to significantly less fanfare than the Arizona fight in 2010,

Sam Brooke of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project talked to Justin Elliott about why the Alabama law, which takes effect in September, is the worst state measure to date.

“I think one of the sponsors of the bill summed up it best when he said: ‘This is the Arizona law with an Alabama twist.’ It is everything that was included in Arizona’s SB 1070 — including everything that was enjoined by the courts when they evaluated that bill. The twist is a provision in the Alabama law that requires schools to determine and verify immigration status of any student who is enrolling and any parent of students who are enrolling. The bill’s backers are saying that this is constitutional because they are not turning people away from schools. The schools are not supposed to turn people away, but they are required to collect this data and to report it to the Legislature. This is clearly in violation of existing Supreme Court precedent, because it will in fact have a chilling effect on immigrant children enrolling in school.

“There’s also a prohibition on renting in the law. It is a crime for a landlord to rent an apartment if they knew or should have known that the tenant is undocumented. Also under the law, if a person enters into a contract with someone who they know to be an undocumented immigrant, that contract is unenforceable in the state courts.”

Arizona’s “show me your papers” provision has effectively been copied in Alabama, requiring police officers to check the immigration status of individuals the officers believe might be in the country illegally. As in Arizona, the police don’t (and won’t) have any special training in immigration law, aren’t permitted to engage in racial profiling, and can be sued by any private citizen in Alabama for not enforcing the provision strictly enough.

Brooke added, “Fundamentally it’s our view that this is an un-American law. It’s a law that requires people to carry identification on them at all times in order to prove that they’re a U.S. citizen. It’s a law that is making all of us a lot less safe here in Alabama. This is definitely a dark day in the civil rights history of Alabama.”

And given Alabama’s civil rights history, that’s really saying something.