Proposed Amendments Made Bad Legislation Worse
May 18, 2012
Governor Bentley was right to reject HB 658, but the discriminatory intent of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law can’t be "tweaked" away. Alabama’s unauthorized immigrants will remain highly vulnerable to crimes and abuses so long as the Beason-Hammon Act is on the books.
Grace Meng, researcher in the US Program and author of “No Way to Live”

(Washington, DC) – Alabama Governor Robert Bentley should call for the full repeal of the state’s immigrant law, Human Rights Watch said today. The law violates the right to equal protection under the law, and attempts to amend it do not address its basic flaws, Human Rights Watch said.

On May 17, 2012, Bentley declined to sign into law House Bill (HB) 658, which included dangerous and abusive amendments to Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, which was enacted last year. In refusing to sign the bill, Bentley asked the legislature to remove certain provisions of Beason-Hammon and HB 658, but he did not seek the repeal of the entire law.

“Governor Bentley was right to reject HB 658, but the discriminatory intent of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law can’t be ‘tweaked’ away,” said Grace Meng, US researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of “No Way to Live,” a 2011 report that documents the human rights impact of the Beason-Hammon Act. “Alabama’s unauthorized immigrants will remain highly vulnerable to crimes and abuses so long as the Beason-Hammon Act is on the books.”

“No Way to Live” documented the numerous ways the Beason-Hammon Act threatens unauthorized immigrants and their families’ access to everyday necessities and equal protection of the law. Immigrants and their children, including US citizens, described experiencing challenges to recovering unpaid wages, reporting crimes and getting health care, and attending public schools. US citizens and lawful permanent residents of Latino descent also reported incidents of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment.

Rather than address these concerns, the Alabama legislature on May 16 passed a bill that would have increased the potential for discriminatory and abusive treatment of unauthorized immigrants and their families. It would have required the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to create an online public database with the names of all unauthorized immigrants who have ever appeared in court for any violation of state law. Singling out unauthorized immigrants in this manner violates the right to equal protection under the law, while also implicitly inviting private citizens to target these individuals as well as anyone perceived to be in this database, Human Rights Watch said.

The rejected bill did not eliminate the requirement in Beason-Hammon for schools to check the citizenship status of their students. Nor did it eliminate the provision requiring local law enforcement to ascertain the immigration status of anyone they stop if “reasonable suspicion” exists that they are in the country unlawfully.

In refusing to sign the bill, Bentley asked the legislature to remove the provisions for a public database of court appearances by unauthorized immigrants and for schools to check the citizenship status of their students. However, he did not ask for the full repeal of the 2011 law.

“Governor Bentley should send a clear message to Alabama’s legislature to repeal the anti-immigrant law,” Meng said. “If he and the legislature are serious about protecting Alabama, they need to protect the rights of all Alabama residents.”