Immigration Lessons from Alabama

"“Illegal is illegal.” With that rallying cry, Alabama passed HB 56 in 2011, the harshest state immigration law in the country.

The lead sponsor of the bill boasted to state representatives that the law “attacks every aspect of an illegal alien’s life.”  Among its key provisions: landlords were banned from renting homes to undocumented immigrants, children had to rat out their parents to school principals, police were required to arrest suspected immigration violators.  Even giving unauthorized immigrants a ride became a crime.

The vast scope of the law turned Alabama into the first major test for the anti-immigration movement.  If self-deportation didn’t work there, it’s hard to imagine where it could.  Early reports suggested success: undocumented immigrants appeared to flee Alabama en masse.  But two years later, HB 56 is in ruins.  Its most far-reaching elements have proved unconstitutional, unworkable, or politically unsustainable.  Elected officials, social workers, clergy, activists, and residents say an initial immigrant evacuation that roiled their communities ended long ago.  Many who fled have returned to their old homes.

Now Alabama is back where it started, waiting for a solution from Washington that may never come.

If Congress once again fails to pass reform, more states will be tempted to fill the void with measures aimed at either integrating their immigrant communities or kicking them out. But as Alabama’s bitter experiment confirms, a go-it-alone approach may be no substitute for a federal solution." - Benjy Sarlin, Dec. 17, 2013.