The law contains similar provisions to the hotly-debated Arizona law now making its way through the federal court system -- but Alabama goes even further.
In addition to allowing law enforcement officers to arrest and detain anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, Alabama’s measure introduces new rules for educators, would-be landlords, and businesses.
"This signals real momentum on the side of immigration hawks," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in favor of stricter enforcement. Among the provisions of the new law:
The housing aspect is one that Ali Noorani of the immigrant-rights group the National Immigration Forum finds troubling: “This is of special concern to mixed status families – children could be arrested for transporting their undocumented parents, for example. It can also impact churches who are ‘transporting’ immigrants to church or are providing any services that may be considered as ‘harboring.'"
The new law, described by its co-author, Alabama state representative Micky Hammon, as, “a jobs-creation bill for Americans," also makes it a crime to hire illegal immigrants, and forces employers to use the now-voluntary federal documentation system known as E-Verify.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld Arizona’s right to mandate the use of the government database, and Krikorian predicts, “Alabama’s law will be yet another impetus for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to back a clean E-Verify mandate in Congress.”
Alabama’s law may be the toughest on the books, but it’s certainly not alone. “State legislatures continue to grapple with immigration issues at an unprecedented rate,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “In the first quarter of 2011, state legislators in the 50 states and Puerto Rico introduced 1,538 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees. This number surpasses the first quarter of 2010, when 1,180 bills were introduced.”
Indeed, in May, Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill to let police detain suspected undocumented immigrants and phase in restrictions on employers. Utah, Indiana and Georgia have also enacted versions of immigration laws in recent months, and South Carolina is expected to follow suit before the end of its current legislative session.
Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center, have announced plans to take legal action before portions of the Alabama law take effect Sept. 1.