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Robert Bentley: The Anti-illegal Immigration Law Governor

By Brandon Moseley and Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) signed HB658 on Friday less than 48 hours after stating that he wanted changes to the immigration bill. This was one of his reasons for calling a special session.  Gov. Bentley has never wavered on the need for an anti-illegal immigration bill, but sometimes his position on the law seems to change.

On June 10th 2011, Gov. Robert Bentley signed HB56, the Beason Hammon Alabama Citizens and Taxpayer Act.  At the time, Gov. Bentley said, “We have a real problem with illegal immigration in this country.  I campaigned for the toughest immigration laws and I’m proud of the Legislature for working tirelessly to create the strongest immigration bill in the country.”

When court challenges were filed against HB56 Gov. Bentley remained one of the law’s strongest supporters.  On August 29th 2011 the Governor said, “I look forward to the Judge ruling on the merits.  We have long needed a tough law against illegal immigration in this state, and we now have one. I will continue to fight at every turn to defend this law against any and all challenges.”

On September 28th 2011 Gov. Bentley said, “I will continue to fight at every turn to defend this law against any and all challenges.” On October 14th 2011 Gov. Bentley said, “Today’s decision by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is simply one more step in what we knew would be a lengthy legal process.  As I have said on many occasions, if the federal government had done its job by enforcing its own immigration laws, we wouldn’t be here today.  Unfortunately, by failing to do its job, the federal government has left the problem of dealing with illegal immigration to the states. Alabama needed a tough law against illegal immigration.  We now have one.   I will continue to fight to see this law upheld.”

After it has become public that Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was asking for some changes in the legislation the Governor seemed to modify his position somewhat.  On December 9th 2011 Gov. Bentley signaled that there would be a rewrite of the law. “The leadership of the Alabama House and Senate and I are working together to develop a bill for consideration at the beginning of the next legislative session. The bill’s purpose is to clarify and simplify the current immigration law to ensure that everyone working in Alabama is doing so legally, that law enforcement officers have the clarity, the flexibility and the tools they need to enforce immigration laws, that faith-based, medical and humanitarian services are protected, and that unnecessary burdens on legal residents and businesses are eliminated.” said Gov. Bentley.

On April 5th 2012 Gov. Bentley endorsed HB658 introduced by Rep. Micky Hammon (R) from Decatur.  “Over the last several months, we have worked closely with legislative leaders and various groups to clarify and simplify portions of the immigration law, and the result is a more effective and more enforceable bill,” Governor Bentley said.  “Not only do these revisions make the bill more effective, they also help promote economic growth, ensure greater fairness, and provide greater clarity on the application of the law.  We have revised portions of the bill regarding religious and humanitarian services in a way that mirrors existing federal law.  We have also taken steps to eliminate unnecessary burdens on legal residents and businesses.”

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HB658 was changed some on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives. Further changes occurred in committee in the Senate.  Senator Scott Beason (R) from Gardendale introduced his own anti-illegal immigration bill.  Beason, Hammon, and the Republican leadership worked out a compromise bill that made less changes to HB56 than the version which had been passed by the House.  On Wednesday (the last day of the 2012 legislative session) the Senate passed their version of HB658.  The House concurred with the changes by the Senate and the bill was sent to the Governor for his signature.

Late on Wednesday night, Gov. Bentley unexpectedly added the immigration bill to the call for a special session to begin at 9:00 the next day.  Gov. Bentley wrote “Leaders in the state have worked together on a series of reforms aimed at simplifying Alabama’s immigration law and making it more effective.  Governor Bentley believes progress was made in the regular legislative session, and we have an opportunity to further clarify the law.”

The written statement from the Governor’s office said, “Governor Bentley has some concerns regarding a portion of the school provision in the existing immigration law.  This section is currently enjoined by a federal court.  Governor Bentley believes that revising this section to prevent children from being interrogated would allow the injunction to be lifted, making the law more effective.”

Sen. Beason (who co-sponsored both HB56 and HB658) strongly objected to the Governor’s assertion that the bill required that schools interrogate any children.  “That is a misconception about the law. It is something that the governor said in his press release that was flat out not factual. He said that children have been interrogated. That is not what is in HB56. I thought by this time that everybody knew that. Anyone can go get the bill and look and see that upon enrollment, when the parents bring the birth certificate and a notation is made.”

Sen. Beason told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ (APR), “I think it should be pointed out that children are asked a number of questions upon enrollment. They ask if they are homeless or not which I think is a pretty personal thing. They use that to gather data. We are simply gathering data just like we do on everything else. There is no reason for anyone to say that a child is being interrogated when that is simply not true.”

Gov. Bentley also wanted to change a second section of HB658, “A recently proposed addition to the existing law would require the Department of Homeland Security to publish the names of illegal immigrants who have had various matters before the courts.  Such a list could be counterproductive and take away from the focus of the original law.  The purpose of this particular section of the law is to gather data and statistics, not names.”

Sen. Beason told APR, “If any of the people that I represent were arrested for something, their name is public record and it is posted in all sorts of places. It is posted at convince stores, on websites, and all sorts of places.”  “These records are public records.”

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At one point on Thursday there were even erroneous press releases circulating claiming that the Governor either had vetoed HB658 or had refused to sign HB658, leading to a pocket veto of the bill:  stories which the Governor’s office denied.  At least one Birmingham talk radio station even reported the Bentley veto story on the air.

On Friday the Governor clarified his position on the illegal immigration law again and signed HB658 just as it was passed by the state legislature.  “We needed to make House Bill 56 better.  And over the course of the legislative session, we did that.  There is substantial progress in this bill.  Burdens on legal residents and businesses are eased, and the goal remains the same – that if you live and work in Alabama, you must do so legally,” Gov. Bentley said.

Written By

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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