Part 2 of a series
Though it won’t go into effect until Sept. 1, Alabama’s new immigration law has thus far proved to be a polarizing issue statewide.
Both the Alabama ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center have vowed to file lawsuits to have the measure overturned. Both groups have said the law will return the state to the dark days of segregation.
The bill’s sponsors, including State Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, have said tougher immigration enforcement would help the unemployed by preventing illegal immigrants from taking jobs. Bentley said illegal immigration is a statewide problem that was in need of a tough solution.
“I campaigned for the toughest immigration laws, and I'm proud of the Legislature for working tirelessly to create the strongest immigration bill in the country,” he said upon signing the measure into law.
The human toll
Maria Taylor, who has served as a Hispanic relations liaison in Athens for more than a decade, is torn by the passage of the bill. She worries about how it will impact children, but believes the law must also be enforced.
“Some of the families are already starting to leave, and for the families that stay, it’s going to cause problems,” she said. “I really feel for the children because they come here and don’t know any better. If they go back to Mexico, they’re going to pay a price.”
Though instances of racism and discrimination against Hispanics in the Athens-Limestone area has not been widely reported, she knows of at least two isolated incidents, including a landlord who evicted an illegal immigrant. In another instance, she said, a bank told a man he could not have his money because he is illegal.
“I’m against illegal immigration, but from the beginning, we allowed them to come here and no one was checking. Now that they’re here, they want to kick them out,” Taylor said.
She took issue with the idea that illegal immigrants are considered a drain on the economy, because they shop in local stores and restaurants. She said the notion that illegals are taking jobs away from Alabamians is also a misnomer.
“I don’t know how many people are waiting in line to pick strawberries and apples,” she said. “They’re underpaid, but they don’t know any better. For them, it’s a lot of money.”
In a story published in the April 24 edition of The News Courier, Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely said he would enforce the immigration law, but it could have serious financial impacts on his department.
He said the task of enforcing the law would lead to an increase in man-hours and fuel costs in ferrying illegals to a federal detention facility in Atlanta.
Taylor asked how law enforcement officers would be able to tell who is a legal Hispanic from those who are not.
“It’s going to be all Hispanics (who are affected),” she said. “I’m going to make a T-shirt that says ‘I’m Legal.’”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.