As if immigration reform hadn’t already stirred enough controversy, Alabama is persisting in its goal to tighten immigration restrictions, causing some to call this period of time a “new civil rights struggle.” These newly implemented and proposed immigration laws, though apparently aimed at lessening the influx of undocumented people, have now become more stringent than warranted. Though the federal appeals court has blocked some of the provisions that Alabama attempted to pass as part of their immigration law, more must be done to ensure that legal boundaries are not overstepped.
Alabama is among the new immigration-destination states, experiencing a 67 percent increase in its foreign-born population during the 2000’s. Due to this growing number of immigrants, it seems that the state is now searching for ways to cope with the shift in racial and ethnic representation. This shift has led to changes in the labor force and education system, which in turn have shaped the economy and the allocation of funds.
With Alabama school districts spending nearly $4 million dollars on remedial English courses, it is not difficult to see why some citizens are demanding more immigration regulations. However, this is no excuse to create laws that impose such rigid limitations.
Under Alabama’s law, state and local officials would have the power to check the citizenship status of students in the public school system and detain those who are suspected of being illegal. Through the 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Pyler v. Doe, all children, regardless of their citizenship status, are guaranteed the right to public education. Therefore, school students should not be subjected to such scrutiny in an educational setting.
Although state officials may claim that the provision isn’t aimed to deter students from attending school, it seems that the impact of the bill as a whole has trickled down to the education system. In recent days, school districts have noticed a significant drop in attendance among Hispanic students. Considering the significant existing educational gap between this ethnic group of students and their peers, it is imprudent for Alabama to continue pushing for these anti-immigration laws to govern the land.
As well as causing unnecessary disruptions within the education system, the Alabama immigration laws are also making waves in the low-wage work force. The state’s citizens argue about the injustices of immigrants occupying their jobs, but this erroneous mind set must be altered and set straight.
The truth is that many immigrants are responsible for contributing to the work forces that Americans wouldn’t normally involve themselves in, such as agricultural labor and other strenuous jobs that offer minimum pay. With the Alabama immigration law in full swing, many undocumented workers have reportedly fled their jobs in fear of being deported or harassed. What are employers then left with? A myriad of odd yet essential jobs that need to be filled. The reality is, these employers can’t bank on their American-born neighbors to fill these job openings.
If Alabama continues this trend of actively attempting to eliminate its immigrant population, the state must be prepared to compensate for the imminent drop in manual laborers. Not only are the immigration regulations pushing immigrants out of Alabama, they are also severely constraining the living conditions and mobility of undocumented citizens.
The immigration law also includes a provision that makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s or business license. Sure, these people may not be in the U.S. legally, but their legal status alone should not bar them from leading normal lives. People, undocumented or not, deserve the opportunity to be able to make a living for themselves and their families. By keeping illegal immigrants from obtaining a driver’s or business license, Alabama is putting even harsher limits on individuals who already have few opportunities to adequately provide for themselves and their families.
The citizens of Alabama may be concerned about how the increasing surge of immigrants will affect their lives, but supporting such strict anti-immigration laws is not the best solution. Infringing upon an undocumented student’s right to a public education is unacceptable and essentially forcing illegal immigrants out of jobs will only lead to gaps in the labor force. Alabama lawmakers must keep in mind what’s at stake for undocumented families as well as their own economy before continuing the enforcement of such strict immigration laws.
Dina M. Perez ’15 lives in Wigglesworth Hall.