Scott Beason, co-sponsor of HB 56, cautious on Senate immigration proposal

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Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale

News of progress on a comprehensive federal immigration reform bill drew a cautious response Monday from the co-sponsor of Alabama’s controversial immigration law.

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, said in an phone interview that he was encouraged by elements in the proposal aimed at improving border security, and said a pathway to citizenship for the country’s 11 million undocumented aliens might be acceptable if the security elements were in place. But he had not taken a position on the measure.

“Everybody knows the devil’s in the details,” Beason said.

Alabama’s controversial immigration law, known as HB 56, passed in 2011 and was amended slightly by a second bill, known as HB 658, last year. As originally passed, the law criminalized many aspects of an undocumented immigrant’s life and gave broad powers to state law enforcement to detain those who were in the country unlawfully.

Beason and other supporters of the measure said it was a response to what they saw as poor federal enforcement of immigration laws. Opponents charged HB 56 led to racial profiling and hurt both documented and undocumented immigrants in the state.

Federal courts have struck down most of the controversial elements of the law, except for a section that allows law enforcement to detain those they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country unlawfully.

According to The New York Times, the eight senators involved in the negotiations have agreed to a two-part proposal. A series measures to improve border security would first be implemented by Congress; a broader pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens in the country would follow afterward.

The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, which opposes the state’s immigration law, expressed cautious optimism about the proposal in a statement Monday.

“We support comprehensive immigration reform and we hope that the final bill reflects the needs of the immigrant community,” said Melissa Murrell, Communications Director for the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “This issue should be resolved at the federal level, and not by the states, as Alabama has attempted to do with HB 56 and HB 658.”

Beason echoed that caution.

“(The senators) did understand that the first thing that has to be done is border security,” he said. “It has to be put in place before anything will work. I think that’s very important.”

The senator also suggested that with improved border security, he would not oppose a pathway to citizenship for undocumented aliens.

“If that’s the trade it takes to secure the border, maybe that’s something that needs to be discussed,” he said. “But we did an amnesty in the late 80s, and we did not secure the borders.”

If Congress passed comprehensive immigration reform, Beason said he would like to see the states play a role in its enforcement.

“We have immigration law now,” he said. “The federal government has chosen not to enforce it. That’s why state had to turn to enforcement.”

– posted by Brian Lyman

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