In 2011, growing numbers of state and municipal governments passed new laws to crack down on illegal immigration.
The wave of new legislation followed the lead of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law in April 2010. Legislatures in Utah, Indiana and Georgia passed bills that featured many of the same sanctions against illegal immigrants as Arizona.
But the most restrictive law came from Alabama. Gov. Robert Bentley called it “the strongest immigration law in the country,” and few would dispute the assertion.
Shortly after Gov. Bentley signed the bill into law, three separate lawsuits targeted it as unconstitutional. The Obama administration filed suit, claiming Alabama had usurped powers that rightfully belong to the federal government.
Until recent years, states had accepted with little question that the responsibility for immigration policy and border security belonged exclusively with the federal government. That changed after 2000, when the number of illegal immigrants in the United States reached an estimated 12 million.Critics of the Alabama law called it “Arizona on steroids” because of its stringent and far-reaching measures. The law would:
Supporters of the law hope it will create an intimidating climate for illegal immigrants and drive them from the state. The Republican lawmakers who sponsored the bill believe that as more illegal immigrants “self-deport” themselves from Alabama, more jobs will open up for U.S. citizens.
But the experiences in Georgia and many other states suggests otherwise. When immigrant workers leave, U.S. citizens typically don’t fill the void, especially when it comes to menial, minimum-wage labor.
Farmers, in particular, fear that they will be unable to find workers to harvest their crops. According to U.S. government officials, about 80% of the agriculture work force is illegal.
Alabama’s interest in immigration law-making grew with its Hispanic population over the last decade. By 2011, Hispanics numbered about 185,6000 made up 4% of the state’s population, an increase of about 150% since 2000. Conservative politicians expressed public worries about the growing enclaves of Spanish-speaking residents in the northern part of the state.
The failure of Congress to agree on comprehensive immigration reform has led frustrated state and local governments to take matters into their own hands.
The new law was scheduled to take effect in Alabama on Sept. 28, 2011, after a federal judge ruled the state could move forward with some but not all of the new measures. School officials said they would begin checking the birth certificates of new students to make sure they were U.S. citizens.
As with Arizona, Georgia and other states, the Alabama law faces a long campaign of legal challenges in the courts.