Mock cable news conservative Stephen Colbert this week skewered Alabama lawmakers who passed the state’s toughest-in-the-nation anti-illegal immigration legislation this year. Alabama’s “papers please” law endorsed in Colorado by immigration crusader Tom Tancredo came amid a wave of similar proposals floated last spring by Republican state lawmakers around the country, including here in Colorado. The law has led to a mass exodus of Latinos in Alabama, which has left the agricultural industry shorthanded and thousands of acres of produce unpicked and rotting during harvest season.
Provisions of the law include one that requires police to check resident status during routine interactions with members of the public and allows police to hold anyone stopped for a traffic violation, for example, if the person cannot immediately provide evidence of legal residency.
Another provision criminalizes the “willful failure” of immigrants to carry residency papers. Of course, police have no sure way to know who among the people they are stopping might be immigrants. Karen Tumlin, managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center, described the law as unworkable and a civil rights nightmare.
“Even if you are a U.S. citizen, you may feel compelled to carry additional documents. The freedom to move has been compromised for people based on the fact that they look Hispanic,” she said.
Signs of trouble came in the immediate wake of the federal court ruling that upheld most of the state’s new laws. The New York Times called it “the vanishing.”
[It] began Wednesday night, the most frightened families packing up their cars as soon as they heard the news.
They left behind mobile homes, sold fully furnished for a thousand dollars or even less. Or they just closed up and, in a gesture of optimism, left the keys with a neighbor. Dogs were fed one last time; if no home could be found, they were simply unleashed.
Two, 5, 10 years of living here, and then gone in a matter of days, to Tennessee, Illinois, Oregon, Florida, Arkansas, Mexico — who knows? Anywhere but Alabama.
The exodus of Hispanic immigrants began just hours after a federal judge in Birmingham upheld most provisions of the state’s far-reaching immigration enforcement law.
The fact that the farms may turn increasingly to prison labor to pick crops is sure to raise new labor and civil rights questions in the state.