As draconian immigration bills pass state houses, it’s comforting to know that we have the courts. Arizona’s SB 1070 has been rebuffed twice in federal court, and Alabama and Georgia’s copycat laws in Alabama (HB 56) and Georgia (HB 87) will face similar legal challenges. But while the courts are critical for protecting minority rights, the judiciary alone cannot protect our country from an anti-immigrant offensive.
Anti-immigration advocates are working hard to spread these laws further and make them stick in court. Pro-immigrant advocates and allies around the country must thus muster a strong response to break their momentum.
Alabama’s HB 56 and Georgia’s HB 87 encapsulate all that’s wrong with state legislative efforts. Among other things, they empower local police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an unauthorized immigrant (Alabama) or breaking the law (Georgia), and mandate that businesses use a federal electronic verification system (E-Verify) still in its pilot phase or risk losing their licenses (Alabama and Georgia).
The Alabama law goes even further. It creates state crimes for immigrants not carrying a document that proves their legal status and for anyone who knowingly gives a ride or rents housing to an unauthorized immigrant. (A similar Georgia provision on transporting unauthorized immigrants applies only to those who have violated another law.) It also bars unauthorized immigrants from attending public colleges and forces public schools to determine students’ immigration status.
The provisions on transportation and housing open the door for a veritable dragnet of immigrant communities and the citizens who interact with them, similar to the “harboring” provisions in the 2005 “Sensenbrenner Bill” that provoked a national outcry. The public school reporting requirement, meanwhile, amounts to a back-door effort to scare undocumented immigrants from public schools, which violates a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that all children, irrespective of immigration status, have the right to public education.
No wonder that Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, observed that Alabama’s “draconian initiative is so oppressive that Bull Connor himself would be impressed.”
As in the Arizona case, these laws will be challenged on the basis that the federal government has the sole constitutional authority to enforce immigration law, and should retain it, else we create a perplexing collage of immigration enforcement across the country. Equally importantly, as in the Arizona case, these laws raise serious concerns about racial profiling and public safety for immigrants and citizens alike.
The economic arguments for these laws are also dubious at best. In Georgia, for instance, Governor Nathan Deal based estimates of illegal immigration’s costs on an extremely problematic report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has been deemed a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Meanwhile, business leaders, tourism boosters and growers have publicly opposed HB 87 for its economic and reputational risk.
Though the legal challenge emerged quickly after Arizona passed SB 1070 last April, anti-immigration state laws continue to spread because they are being promoted by a formidable nativist network—namely, John Tanton’s national web of organizations, which includes FAIR and other “hate groups” supported by large benefactors and foundations, such as the ultra-conservative Colcom Foundation.