Alabama's Anti-Immigrant Law Will Cost Billions and Allow Bosses to Abuse Workers Freely

The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive In These Timesweekly updates. 

Three days after completing landscaping work and clearing out a filthy trailer that included a bed bug-ridden mattress and moldy, wet furniture, Hortensia, an immigrant worker in Alabama, went to the man who hired her to get paid. He refused, pointed a gun at her and her relative and told her she couldn’t do anything about it because she didn’t have “papers.”

This is just one of the stories in a report released this week by the Southern Poverty Law Center “Alabama’s Shame: HB56 and the War on Immigrants.” The report came from calls to a hotline set up by SPLC and other groups last year.  By late January 2012, more than 5,100 calls had poured in.

Last June, Gov. Robert Bentley signed Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, better known as HB56. The law attacks key aspects of immigrants' lives and affects the lives of people working hard to overcome poverty. Critics says it unleashes vigilantism, racial profiling and bigotry.

Since June, thousands of undocumented workers have left the state, according to a new University of Alabama study.

It's unknown exactly how many, but using 2010 data as a basis, early estimates project between 40,000 to 80,000 undocumented workers earning $15,000 to $30,000 a year have left the state as a result of HB 56. That's according to a report from the university’s Center for Business and Economic Research, “A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the New Alabama Immigration Law” authored by Samuel Addy.

The researcher says the law will cost the state “up to 140,000 direct and indirect jobs.” State GDP losses could total $2.3 to $10.8 billion and reduce local sales taxes by $20.0 to $93.1 million. Crops have been left rotting in the fields. Farmers have lost millions of dollars. Agribusiness in Alabama is a billion-dollar industry, a third of that business in poultry.

Anti-immigration supporters say if those jobs were vacated, then U.S. citizens could do them. Farmers say that’s not the case, that most of the people they’ve hired since the exodus of immigrant workers don’t stay more than a few hours laboring in the fields, Paul Reyes reports in Mother Jonesmagazine.

Arcelia, another immigrant story highlighted in the SPLC report, had a small hair salon and a loyal clientele. When her business permit expired in September, it was just as provisions of HB 56 were set to take effect. She was afraid to get her license renewed.

When she got a call saying she would either be fined $10,000 if she didn’t renew or deported if she worked without a permit, she went to the licensing agency.

They demanded to see her Social Security and Alabama ID. She told them she left them in the car, and left the agency. She didn’t want to risk being deported and separated from her three daughters, who are all U.S. citizens.  


The SPLC, ACLU, Dept. of Justice and others have sued to block the law, one of the most draconian seen in recent history. HB 56 requires status checks by law enforcement during routine stops, it bars undocumented immigrants from entering contracts, and prevents undocumented immigrants from business transactions with state agencies.

Parts of the law took effect last September, leaving families fleeing the state, workers not showing up for work, children pulled out of school, and people afraid to drive to school, work or their jobs.


Yesterday, March 1, the ACLU and other civil rights groups presented their case before a three-judge panel in Atlanta appellate court.

“The Alabama statues at issue here impose a state law scheme to carry out the legislature’s stated purpose—‘to attack every aspect of an illegal immigrant’s life so they will deport themselves,’ Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said.

Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project said, "We’ve never had a requirement in this country that everybody has to carry a certain form of identification to be free from detention by the police," he said.


The U.S. Dept. of Justice also argued before the court, saying HB 56 conflicts with federal law. 

The appellate court announced it will issue its ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Arizona's anti-immigration law, which it is expected to do in June.

Said Hortensia, referring to the man who didn’t pay her for three days of hard labor, “You can’t fight with anyone if you aren’t legal, and that’s why he didn’t pay us. We haven’t gone to the court because it’s like we have no case because we’re illegal. We’re afraid to do it.”

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