Even conservative politicians backing away from Alabama immigration law

Image by: Matt MahurinMany Republicans, including the governor of Alabama, are hesitating to publicly praise Alabama’s controversial immigration law, most of which remains in effect even after a federal circuit court blocked one of its more controversial provisions.

Gov. Robert Bentley (R), who signed the law and continues to support it, recently revealed that he has avoided making public statements about the law in part because he believes it has damaged Alabama’s reputation by strengthening stereotypes about the state’s residents “living in the ’50s and ’60s.”

“I don’t want to be perceived as the face of illegal immigration bills in the country, and I could be that,” Bentley told the Associated Press.

Bentley says he’s been turning down many national news interview requests because “I don’t want to add fuel to the fire across the country where people continue to look at Alabama in a negative light.”

He contrasts himself with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who embraced the national spotlight when her state passed a similar immigration law last year.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked Section 28, a provision requiring K-12 public schools to check the immigration status of their students. Attention focused on the section after reports of Hispanic and immigrant families withdrawing their children from Alabama public schools. Such was the attention that provision received that one GOP state senator who voted for the law called what was happening in Alabama schools “heartbreaking.”

Yet much of the law is still in effect, including provisions requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain, or arrest, and a provision that makes any contract made with an unauthorized immigrant invalid.

But while most Republicans say they support state-level immigration laws, some are hesitant to publicly champion Alabama for implementing the most stringent enforcement law in modern history. Apart from the effects of the law itself, some of H.B. 56′s most prominent supporters have also been personally damaged by the heightened national media scrutiny of Alabama.

State Sen. Scott Beason (R-Gardendale), one of two named sponsors of H.B. 56, was recently publicly rebuked by a federal judge for having “racist” intentions when he cooperated with authorities in a high-profile corruption case, and was captured on a wiretap calling African-American constituents “aborigines.”

An outright accusation of racism from a federal judge towards a prominent Alabama Republican, in the context of a controversial push for immigration enforcement in as many fronts as the courts have allowed, could be one reason why Bentley isn’t as eager as Brewer was to become a national spokesperson for immigration laws.

Some restrictionist activists in Washington also aren’t that enthusiastic about the law in its entirety. Roy Beck, Executive Director of NumbersUSA, was recently asked by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about Section 27 of HB 56, which bans “any contract between a party and an alien unlawfully present in the United States.”

Beck told Hayes: “My organization doesn’t take a position on those things. Again, I’m sorry you’re right, we don’t believe that for the most part the answers are in the states.”

Beck went on to argue that the priority should be on what former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) calls the “jobs magnet,” the idea that unauthorized immigrants come to the United States for jobs. He argued that nationwide mandatory E-Verify, which Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has proposed in his Legal Workforce Act, would make state-level immigration policy obsolete.

“The more they focus on the fence, or frankly in-state tuition,” Beck told Hayes, “They’re off the main subject.”

Whether or not Beck is correct, it appears that many of the proponents of state-level enforcement don’t agree with his “jobs magnet” centric view on immigration enforcement.

Many states, including North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana, passed laws mandating workplace verification but without the more controversial sections of “papers, please” laws. But Arizona, which also passed a mandatory E-Verify law in 2007 that the Supreme Court ruled constitutional earlier this year, then went a step further in 2010 by passing S.B. 1070, which directly involved local police in immigration enforcement.

Georgia, Indiana, Utah, South Carolina and Alabama all followed suit, passing immigration laws that went further than mandatory E-Verify and cracking down on the so-called “jobs magnet”.

And dwelling on specific provisions of the law could be obscuring its broader intent, to create an atmosphere of zero tolerance towards unauthorized immigrants in the states that forces them to leave. U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) recently told Politico that regardless of the constitutional challenges to the law, its ongoing effects are not unintended: “with respect to illegal aliens who are now leaving jobs in Alabama, that’s exactly what we want.”

Kris Kobach, an attorney who in addition to being the Kansas Secretary of State wrote much of Alabama’s immigration law in his spare time, praised the exodus of immigrants from Alabama as a sign the law was working. “You’re encouraging people to comply with the law on their own. Nobody gets arrested. Nobody spends time in detention. We don’t expend resources in removal hearings. People decide to comply with the law. I’d say that’s a good thing.”