By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a new anti-illegal immigration bill to fix unintended consequences in Alabama’s anti-illegal immigration bill, HB56. The new anti-illegal immigration bill passed the Alabama House of Representatives by a margin of 67 to 37. This bill had passed in the Alabama Senate earlier in the day. The bill is now going to Governor Bentley’s office for his signature.
Last year, the Alabama legislature passed HB56, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Citizen and Taxpayer Protection Act. Governor Robert Bentley signed the bill into law. The U.S. Department of Justice, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), several large Alabama Churches, as well as a number of individuals have since sued the State of Alabama challenging various components of the landmark anti-illegal immigration bill. On the advice of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and based on court rulings and unintended consequences with the original bill Representative Micky Hammon (R) from Decatur proposed a bill to “tweak” HB56, HB658. Hammon’s bill had already passed the Alabama House.
Both Hammon’s HB658 and a Senate Bill sponsored by Sen. Scott Beason that made far fewer changes in HB56 were introduced in the Alabama Senate. A compromise bill was made and introduced in the Senate on Wednesday combining elements of both bills. That bill is what passed the Senate, rather than Rep. Hammon’s HB658.
Rep. Micky Hammon asked that the House pass this new anti-illegal immigration bill without sending it to a conference committee. Rep. Hammon said, “We have a bill that has been substituted in the Senate. The majority of the changes we can agree with.” Rep. Hammon said that the bill doesn’t really change the intent of the law. Rep. Hammon said that a military ID would be accepted as legal proof of lawful presence in the country in this new law. “That was our major concern.”
Rep. Hammon said that the new bill added language to keep a contractor whose license has been suspended for hiring illegal aliens from applying for another license under a different corporate identity. Hammon said that the new bilI contained wording which would relate to any state funded entity that was competitively bid. “We want to make sure that we are not going to enforce this on people who are just selling products.”
Rep. Hammon said that several sections of HB56 that the House bill had changed were changed back to the wording found in HB56. Rep. Hammon said, “They (the Senate) made some changes that weakened portions of the bill. They took away enforcement from the Department of Homeland Security.” Rep. Hammon was also critical of the Senate’s changes to section 15. “Section 15 was something that I am real sorry that got changed in the Senate. It is related to e-verify.” Rep. Hammon said that the House version of the bill would have given judges discretion on whether an employer who hired an illegal alien was intentional or accidental. The Senate bill changed the wording back to the original wording in HB56.
Rep. Kerry Rich (R) from Albertville objected to the changes that the Senate made to the religious exemption in the bill. Rep. Rich said that he feared that the wording was so broad that illegal aliens will become reverends and missionaries in order to reside in the state of Alabama using the religious exemption. Rep. Hammon said that he preferred the wording that the House had written in HB658, but the Senate substituted the legal definitions that are used in federal law.
The new bill requires law enforcement agencies in Alabama to enforce the law. To protect Alabama policemen from threatened actions being filed against them, the new law requires that the Alabama Attorney General must defend a law enforcement officer who has been sued by the Department of Justice with violating someone’s civil rights while enforcing Alabama’s anti-illegal immigration law if the AG determines that the officer has acted lawfully, according to this law. Rep. Hammon said that law enforcement officers have not been enforcing the law actively because many were afraid of being sued by the President Obama’s U.S. Department of Justice, which opposes state anti-illegal immigration laws.
Rep. Joe Knight (D) from Montgomery asked, “Of all the good things that we have done in this state with economic development, what is the motivation behind this bill?” “What changed so that we want to close our state and lock our state down?” “Are the people who are in economic development in favor of this?” “We made national news on this does that matter? This is a federal issue let them handle it. This is not a bill we should be addressing in the Alabama legislature.”
During the hours up to and during the vote dozens of members of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and their supporters flooded the capital grounds protesting the bill and HB56. They were chanting, singing, and some attempted to block legislators entering the House chambers. At least seven were arrested and removed from the building.
The bill passed by a margin of 67 to 37 and now goes to Governor Bentley for his signature.