A House committee Tuesday approved an 83-page bill making substantial changes to the state’s immigration law, but not before adding revisions to the legislation and having a debate over the possibility of racial profiling.
HB 56, signed by Gov. Robert Bentley last June, makes it a state crime to be an undocumented alien in Alabama, and restricts the undocumented’s ability to work and enter contracts. It also allows police officers to detain those they have “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country unlawfully, forbids governmental bodies from entering into contracts with aliens and provides non-criminal penalties for businesses that knowingly employ undocumented aliens.
After lawsuits and controversies over certain provisions, Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, introduced changes that scaled back some provisions while increasing the scope of others.
Before passage, the committee added an additional package of amendments to the bill, that, among other matters, allow churches and church-affiliated organizations to minister to all individuals regardless of status.
“I really feel like this makes the bill stronger,” Hammon told the committee, calling HB 56 the “toughest law in the nation.”
Democratic members, however, questioned the expansion of the “reasonable suspicion” provisions in the legislation. The law currently allows police to check the status of anyone they have reasonable suspicion of being in the country illegally during any stops. The changes limit the time police can check status to arrests and traffic stops, but also allow police to check the status of other passengers in the car.
Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard, objected to the provision and attempted to have it struck out.
“My wife should not have to be checked because I received a traffic ticket,” he said.
Hammon said during the meeting he had faith in police officer training, which he re-emphasized after the committee’s 6 to 3 vote.
“Our officers are well-trained, and we have a lot of people looking over our shoulders,” he said.
Bracy, however, said he had been a victim of racial profiling.
“I don’t think Rep. Hammon has ever been a victim of racial profiling,” he said. He would have to be a victim of racial profiling to understand where we’re coming from.”
The U.S. Justice Department and a coalition of groups and individuals have sued the state over the state, saying it is pre-empted by federal law and promotes racial profiling.
Federal courts have enjoined sections that required aliens to carry papers; forbade aliens from enrolling in post-secondary schools; required school districts to collect data on status at time of enrollment and forbade “harboring” undocumented aliens.
The proposed changes, filed just a week and half ago after first being promised in December, pull back on some controversial provisions but significantly expand others. The changes include language that, supporters hope, will convince a federal judge to lift a stay against the post-secondary provision.
Other elements of the law have been limited. The changes would only forbid local authorities from contracting with undocumented aliens on business transactions and motor vehicles; some agencies had gone as far as deny water service to aliens. The school reporting provision was also dropped and replaced with a requirement for the Alabama Department of Education to compile a report on the financial costs of undocumented aliens on schools.
Opponents of the law dominated a public hearing on the changes last week, urging lawmakers to repeal the entire statute. Gov. Robert Bentley and legislative leaders have ruled that out.
Hammon said he would push for a vote by the full House of Representatives on the changes Thursday.
– posted by Brian Lyman