In 2011, Alabama passed HB 56, widely reviled as the harshest immigration law in the country . In the year since, a rapidly unfolding economic and humanitarian crisis has been projected to cost the state up to $11 billion in economic output  and has put a serious stain  on Alabama’s reputation. In response to numerous concerns raised about HB 56, the law’s champions, State Senator Scott Beason and State Representative Micky Hammon, expressed a desire to address some of the law’s most egregious provisions during this legislative session. Instead, last Friday, Governor Robert Bentley signed  into law a head-scratcher of a bill, HB 658, which not only fails to address the catastrophic provisions of HB 56, but doubles down on its failed attrition-through enforcement strategy and cements Alabama’s standing as home to the most extreme anti-immigrant legislation in the country.
HB 658 not only fails to address the divisive and economically devastating provisions in HB 56, it actually succeeds in enabling more anti-immigrant extremism. The new law retains provisions that penalize religious institutions for helping immigrants, bar undocumented students from attending the state's public institutions of higher education, and compel private businesses to use the job-killing E-Verify program.
In addition, HB 658 contains an unprecedented “Scarlet Letter” provision  — forcing the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to prominently feature the name of every undocumented immigrant who appears in court for any violation of state law on their website, regardless of whether or not they have been convicted of any wrongdoing. The costly database also allows residents to search by judge and county, risking the encouragement of vigilantism that would not only target undocumented immigrants in Alabama but also include judges who are simply trying to fulfill their obligation to impartially administer the law. The “Scarlet Letter” database not only violates rights to due process, it runs roughshod over the widely established individual right to privacy.
Senator Beason, fresh off an embarrassing Congressional primary loss , ignored loud calls for reform from within his state  and even from Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange  in authoring this law. Along with co-author Representative Hammon, Beason decided to double-down on attrition-through-enforcement measures that have drawn wide criticism from across the country, led tosignificant crop shortages , and which are expected to decrease Alabama’s tax revenue by an eye-popping $264.5 million .
Calls for moderation led Governor Bentley to go on record, as recently as early last week, urging lawmakers to revise Section 28 of the original law to “prevent children from being interrogated ” in schools about their immigration status and their parents’ (the provision is currently enjoined by a federal court). Bentley publicly objected to the “Scarlet Letter” provision as a “public relations problem ” which he would be hard-pressed to defend to the rest of the country. Despite his objections, both provisions made it into the final version of HB 658. Governor Bentley clearly folded in the face of anti-immigrant extremism in the legislature: in doing so, he failed to stand up for any solution that would bolster Alabama’s economic bottom line.
State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy, a growing national group of 96 state legislators representing constituents in 38 states and counting, released  a press statement calling the Alabama law a “new low” for the nation.
“Alabama’s shameful anti-immigrant HB 56 has already done serious damage to the state’s economy and reputation,” noted the group in the statement. “Instead of recognizing its overreach and returning its focus to creating a sustainable economy for all of its residents, the Alabama legislature went down an even lower road that will lead to further economic devastation and a continuing sense that the state has yet to leave its divisive history behind it. What Alabama needs are real economic solutions to spur a stalled economy, not anti-immigrant demagoguery masquerading as responsible governance.”
*This article contains revisions from an earlier version.
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