Alabama’s Tough Immigration Law Didn’t Fail — It Was Gutted

Scott Greer Contributor
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“Alabama tried a Donald Trump-style immigration law. It failed in a big way.”

That’s the headline from a Saturday Washington Post article which sought to educate the public on Alabama’s recent attempt to curb illegal immigration in the state.

Penned by Dave Weigel, the WaPo piece maintains that the 2011 legislation — HB 56 — only hurt the Southern state’s economy and serves as a cautionary tale for anyone now advocating stringent immigration measures.

The Alabama law was modeled off Arizona’s more famous SB 1070 and aimed to make conditions for illegals so difficult that they would “self-deport.”

Citing no numbers and relying only on the expert opinion of immigration activists, the Post claims the 2011 law devastated Alabama’s agriculture industry and forced the state government to deal with expensive lawsuits over the legislation.

The Post leaves out how the federal government delivered the most lethal legal action to HB 56, how national intervention gutted the law and how the bill caused no serious damage to state farmers.

This year, a Vice video report claimed the laws were killing the agriculture business in the state.

However, a 2014 Montgomery Advertiser report found that business was booming and farming has “a bright future” in the Heart of Dixie.

At the time the law was passed, it was predicted to have disastrous consequences for the state’s economy. Those predictions of economic doom failed to materialize. Alabama’s unemployment level dropped significantly after passage.

The law even accomplished its goal of convincing illegal immigrants to leave the state — at least, initially.

And that’s where the bill’s real failure comes in. Due to the overwhelming legal pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice and to full-force opposition from corporate lobbies, HB 56 was gutted and made virtually toothless.

After federal judges threw out some provisions and state legislators revised others, illegals returned to the state in droves — invalidating the very point of the bill. The judges said portions of the law conflicted with federal statutes, so the national government was not going to allow the state to enforce its measure.

HB 56’s most ardent supporters clearly explained the reason for why the law fell short.

“Our bill got eviscerated by the federal government,” Republican state representative Jim Carnes told the Post. “It was like 95 percent within the federal standards, but those standards weren’t being enforced. We enforced them, and it worked for several months until the feds did their thing.”

The Post dismissed these arguments as revisionist thinking, even though that’s why the law didn’t work. If HB 56 wasn’t dismantled, there probably would be very few illegal immigrants the state. If then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s DOJ hadn’t sued the state over differing immigration priorities, Alabama would not have had all the expenses that came with implementation.

But that still leaves us with the complaint that enforcing the law hurts agriculture. Shockingly, the best explanation of this complaint comes from the good liberals over at the Center for American Progress. The progressives argue it’s a massive burden for farm conglomerates to follow the law and use E-Verify.

Even worse, these businessmen could even be punished for (gasp!) knowingly breaking the law. Imagine if we lived in a country that forced business owners to follow the law. What a nightmare that would be!

Big agriculture is not above the law and should follow it. If food prices go up because your industry actually has to employ legal labor, then that’s an acceptable cost to bear. The real problem with agriculture and immigration enforcement is not that it “hurts” the business, but that farm companies have built the industry around breaking the law.

While they may claim they have to rely on illegal labor to get the job done, that’s a debatable assertion. As the immigration-loving Wall Street Journal reports, farmers all over America are now turning to automation in the face of labor shortages. That innovation could mean more productivity and lower food costs, all while following the law and rendering illegal labor obsolete.

The most important thing to take away from Alabama’s effort is not that it failed from the beginning, but that it couldn’t succeed due to the meddling of the federal government. Since the states — as shown in Alabama, Arizona and Georgia — aren’t allowed to enforce the laws, then it’s up to the federal government to do the job.

Maybe that’s why 30,000 people showed up last week in Mobile to listen to a presidential candidate who promises to do just that.

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