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Public hearing held for competing immigration bills

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–On Wednesday, two bill directed at the immigration law as codified in HB 56 were open for public hearing. House Bill 658 (Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee) seeks to clarify and strengthen HB 56 while Senate Bill 41 (Senate Judiciary Committee) would repeal the bill completely.

Representative Micky Hammon (R-Decatur) along with 41 other legislators are sponsoring HB658. This bill would further explain and fix certain issues concerning businesses who employ illegal workers. On first offense, business license suspension would be increased from 10 days to 60 days. Only businesses having received 3 offenses would have their licenses revoked permanently.

Under HB658, changes would be made to parts of HB56 making no longer it illegal to encourage illegal aliens from residing in Alabama, as well as churches giving sanctuary or transportation.

School administrators would no longer be required to ask children in public schools to show their parents’ documentation.

Under this revision, law enforcement would only be able to ask for documentation if the person that has been pulled over is given a citation or arrested.

“No question there has been some problems for  people getting business license renewal, tag renewal and with the churches but I do not think this bill needs to be repealed,” said Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), “We need to tweak law that is in place. We can do that, this is an opportunity to change current law to make it better.”

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The Business Council of Alabama which had expressed some reservation about the current law issued a strong statement in support of HB658.

“The intent of the immigration law was never to make it difficult for businesses to comply and burden businesses with unnecessary red tape. These changes, while not perfect, are a much-needed step in the right direction and will allow businesses to clearly comply with both federal and state immigration law. We will work actively for the passage of HB 658, urging our member companies to voice support for these necessary changes in the law,” said BCA president and CEO William J. Canary.

Senator Billy Beasley (D-Clayton) is sponsoring SB41 that would repeal HB56 completely. It states:

This bill would repeal Act 2011-535, HB56, of the 2011 Regular Session, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, providing for the enforcement of immigration law in this state and providing criminal penalties for violations.

“[HB56] has created a sense of fear among many Alabamians–not only undocumented Alabamians but legal Alabamians,” said Beasley. “It has created fear among the children especially in the part that addresses schools.”

Beasley explained that Alabama’s largest industry, agriculture, was hit the hardest by HB56. “It caused total chaos in that in the agricultural arena throughout the state of Alabama. We had crops in the fields that couldn’t get harvested. I don’t think the intention of the Alabama Legislature was to have an effect like that.”

Both public hearings were standing room only due to the intense interested in the outcome.

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Many Alabamians both native and immigrant, some illegals came forward with stories of how HB56 had directly and indirectly effected their lives and the lives of their families and friends. Stories from parents with severely injured children afraid to take them to the hospital, to people afraid to drive to the store to buy groceries were told. Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma) said it brought back painful childhood memories from growing in a segregated Alabama.

Many speakers told of business dealings in both Europe and South Africa where their counterparts were concerned that Alabama had returned to the past.

Representative and Judiciary Committee member Linda Coleman (D-Birmingham) said, “I thought the hearing today were very timely. The first time we were [under HB56] we did not hear from the people the bill most greatly impacted. As a result we have added a new phrase to Webster’s it’s called “unintended consequences.”

Coleman continued, “For too long the assumption has been that these people are here just freeloading, but they pay taxes, They are our neighbors, they are hardworking people and they are productive members of our society. They want to play by the rules but our rules don’t work.”

“This is a law we need to rethink. There are a lot of laws we pass, some are good some are not so good.

When we make a mistake we need to work to correct it,” said Coleman. “As the saying goes, “When we know better we ought to do better.” We know better now, the only question remains is will we do better?

The public hearing was populated by mostly those who opposed HB56 and HB658 and focused primarily on SB41 which seeks to overturn existing Alabama  law.

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Both bills will now be discussed by their respective committees.

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