A top official from President Barack Obama’s Justice Department spent Thursday night and Friday in Alabama appealing for evidence that could strike down the state’s innovative immigration-enforcement reform, which business executives say could open thousands of jobs to unemployed Americans.
The administration’s effort suffered a setback Friday, when an appeals court approved the workforce related portions of the law, the law’s requirement that police make a “reasonable attempt” to verify the legal residency of people who have been arrested or detained, and the law’s nullification of contracts with illegal immigrants. The court, however, barred the law’s requirements that schools collect data related to students.
The justice department’s campaign against the state’s immigration reform complements Obama’s 2012 campaign strategy, which seeks to spur turnout by Democratic-leaning Hispanics in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and other swing-states.
The law allows police to make a “reasonable attempt” to verify the legal residency of people who have been arrested or detained.
The administration officials “see every Alabaman as having a Bull Connor on the inside waiting to come out … [and] they’re attacking Alabama to motivate left-wing voters in other states,” said Mark Krikorian, direct of the Center for Immigration Studies. Among progressives, “it is 1963 forever,” he added.
The state had an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent in August, slightly down from 10 percent in July. Unemployment in Alabama’s poorest counties, which are mostly African-American, is above 20 percent.
“We have been here in town … to listen and learn and collect information about all of the effects of the bill,” Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a Friday press conference.
Alabamans “are not allowed to racially profile,” said Perez, before he listed a series of disparaging claims that he and his staff had heard from advocates in the state. (RELATED: Justice Dept. files emergency appeal to block Alabama immigration law)
“We’re monitoring very troubling data about absenteeism and withdrawals of Hispanic kids [from schools] … we’re hearing a number of reports about increases in bullying in schools that we’re investigating …. [and] we’re beginning to hear information regarding [potentially improper] arrests,” he said, without offering evidence that such episodes had occurred or were crimes.
“People who might need an interpreter [in the courts] are being flagged and asked questions about status … we are hearing some concerns about vigilante enforcement of the law … There are disturbing reports of people saying ‘You don’t belong here. Go back to where you came from,’” continued Perez, who also declared himself to be “the son of immigrants.”
State school performance may also decline, he said, because “some of the kids who are leaving are some of the highest performing kids.”
His office has sent several lawyers to serve as “boots on the ground” alongside the federal district attorney. Additional Washington-based lawyers and education officials are also monitoring the state, he said.
But “the administration has profiled Alabamans … they’re turning Alabama voters into a cartoon enemy” for political purposes, said Krikorian.
Perez did not say he would help enforce federal immigration law against illegal immigrants in the state. He did not say that he was looking for information about the opening of new jobs when illegals depart. Reporters at the press conference did not ask about those matters.
The new immigration reform is intended to help Americans, whether they are white, African-American and Hispanic, to compete with illegal workers, said one of the law’s sponsors, Republican Representative Mike Ball of Huntsville.
New jobs are opening as illegals leave, he said. “Common sense would tell you that would happen,” and the shift will benefit working-class Americans, he said.
For example, he said, some roofing contractors use illegal immigrants to curt wage costs by roughly 50 percent and to undercut other contractors. They save money by not paying the illegals’ health insurance or payroll taxes, said Ball, who was a roofing contractor. “That’s why I had to get to out of the business,” he said. When he closed his company, he laid off five American-born workers, he said.