— From staff, wire reports
The author of Alabama’s tough immigration law offered revisions Thursday that modify some sections put on hold by the federal courts, that have upset businesses and caused long lines at courthouses. He and the governor said the changes do not cut into the heart of the law.
Republican Rep. Micky Hammon of Decatur said the bill he introduced in the House would make the law more workable for local governments, more enforceable for police, and less burdensome for law-abiding citizens and businesses.
Hammon did not return a call Friday regarding the changes.
Gov. Robert Bentley praised Hammon’s work. “The essence of the bill will not change: Anyone living and working in Alabama must be here legally,” he said.
The wide-ranging law requires police to determine citizenship status during traffic stops and requires government offices to verify legal residency for everyday transactions like obtaining a car license, enrolling a child in school, getting a job or renewing a business license.
Bentley signed the law last June that both supporters and critics called the toughest in the nation. The U.S. Justice Department and 30 civil rights, religious and immigrant organizations challenged it in court. In the meantime, it caused both legal and illegal immigrants to leave the state for fear of arrest and caused farmers to complain about not having enough help to pick their crops.
Hammon’s bill also removes two sections put on hold by federal courts. One prohibited illegal immigrants from attending college in Alabama and the other required Alabama’s public schools to check the legal residency of new students.
It also revises a provision that allowed police to detain someone in a traffic stop if they had “reasonable suspicion” they were in the country illegally. In the future, that would only be done upon issuance of a traffic ticket or arrest.
Responding to complaints from businesses, it eliminated a provision that said renting to an illegal immigrant is the same as harboring one. It also revised a provision to say a contractor will not be liable for a subcontractor hiring illegal immigrants unless the contractor had actual knowledge of those actions.
It also provides that showing proof of legal residency will only be required the first time that business licenses, drivers license and license plates are issued after the enactment of the law. Proof won’t be necessary for renewals. Checking residency had caused long lines at some courthouses.
The law currently voids contracts with illegal immigrants, which raised concerns from businesses about loans and items purchased to pay for over time. Hammon’s bill clarifies that it only applies to contracts entered into after the enactment of the law.
William Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama, said his group supports Hammon's bill.
“These changes, while not perfect, are a much-needed step in the right direction and will allow businesses to clearly comply with both federal and state immigration law,” he said.
Revisions to the law may also address addresses some of the concerns raised by religious organizations that the law unfairly restricted their work.
The governor’s legal adviser, Cooper Shattuck, said the changes should alleviate concerns about religious organizations ministering, providing food or offering other services to illegal immigrants. He said the changes clarify that religious organizations don’t have to verify the legal residency of people they serve.
An attorney for an Episcopal bishop challenging the law in federal court, Kitty Rogers Brown, said the changes are a sign that state officials are listening to religious leaders, but the changes don't go far enough.
Some Republican lawmakers and supporters of the bill have previously said there was little need to change the controversial law until the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on the constitutionality of Arizona’s law.
State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison, said Friday he had not had the chance to delve into Hammon’s 80-page “tweak” of HB 56, but added he would stand firm on the law’s merits and doesn’t want to see it weakened or watered down.
One part of Hammon’s proposed amendment would allow veterans to use their military identification card as proof of citizenship. Holtzclaw, who chairs the Military Veterans Affairs Committee, is working on a separate bill addressing the same issue.
“If Alabama had not passed HB 56, the Supreme Court would not have taken up Arizona’s law,” he said. “We recognize that when the Supreme Court won’t rule until we’re out of session. I’m cautiously optimistic on (making changes) because the Supreme Court may overrule everything, or they make come back and say it’s OK.”
Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens, said most House members haven’t had time to fully study Hammons’ changes, but said it would strengthen the penalties for breaking the law while also easing constraints on legal citizens and law enforcement.
“If there are sections that need an adjustment to line up with the federal law, those things will be done, too,” he said. “There will always be words that need changing or have a definition added to it.”
Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, called the bill “a half-hearted response to the economic and humanitarian crisis that is gripping our state.”
Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change, said, “No amount of revising or tinkering made to this anti-immigrant bill can fix it. Repealing it is the only option.”
Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington-based immigration reform organization, said the underlying premise of the law remains the same — to use racial profiling and discrimination to pursue Alabama’s goal of mass expulsion. He added the law is akin to the “humanitarian and economic crisis” that recalls Jim Crow laws.
“Some activist groups don't have a problem with illegal immigration and will only be happy if the law is repealed,” said Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard. “That’s not going to happen.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.