It was by a fluke of timing that the We Belong Together delegation was in Georgia speaking out against that state’s SB 1070 copycat legislation on the same day that neighboring Alabama announced that large parts of its copycat legislation survived a legal challenge. But now that parts of Alabama’s strict immigration law have been upheld, the countdown towards implementation begins. In other words, the time has come for the wave of fear that has been building across the country to come crashing over Alabama’s growing immigrant population.
And this fear is warranted: on its face, the law aims to lock up immigrants or drive them out of the country, or at least the state. Short of driving the immigrant population out, the law may effectively drive immigrants into the factories and the fields as it tries to ensure that they are uneducated, impoverished, and easily exploitable. As the We Belong Together delegation highlighted, Arizona’s concerns have become those of Georgia, and it is now clear that these concerns are very real in Alabama, too.
After Arizona passed SB 1070 in 2010, it received such a firestorm of attention that it seemed unlikely that other states could top what seemed to be a new low in anti-immigrant legislation. But Alabama took on the challenge, and its answer to SB 1070 is regarded as one of the strictest pieces of anti-immigrant legislation in the country. This legislation didn’t go into force immediately because of legal challenges contending that the law is not valid because it conflicts with federal immigration law, but implementation can now start because a federal judge in Alabama has upheld parts of the law.
One of the main distinguishing provisions of the Alabama legislation is a requirement that schools verify the immigration status of their students. While there is no explicit plan for what this information would be used for, its possible uses smack of violations of Plyler v. Doe, a Supreme Court decision in which Texas was prohibited from denying public K-12 education, including charging tuition, to undocumented schoolchildren. And as if being potentially unconstitutional weren’t enough, Alabama’s law is just bad policy and is likely to do little more than depress school attendance and reduce parental participation in schools, as SB 1070 has in Arizona even without specifically targeting schools.
The federal judge who issued the ruling reserved judgment on some pieces of the Alabama legislation, freezing their implementation until further review. One of the provisions receiving further review would bar non-citizens, including lawful permanent residents, from attending public institutions of higher education. This effort to curtail access to education, which is as crucial for the wellbeing of the country as it is for individuals, comes at a time when Texas is under fire for a decade of improving access to education for people of all immigration statuses, and states such as California and Rhode Island celebrate taking steps towards doing the same. It seems, then, that one of Alabama’s top priorities is that immigrants be uneducated…perhaps because Alabama industry likes best those with least education because it is easier to make them work hard for little pay?
In any case, the American dream, what still exists of it, fundamentally requires education. It is the way for families to improve their standard of living, generation after generation. And it is particularly important for immigrant women because they are often heads of household, trying to make better lives for their families, even in the face workplace discrimination that means that they make less money yet are subject to greater abuses that just about any other class of workers in the country. Alabama’s new immigration law whittles away at immigrants’ access to education, which is the proverbial bootstraps of the 21st century, making it harder for immigrants to pull themselves—and their families—up.
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is a member of the group of strong, educated women, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, participating in the We Belong Together delegation. Along with the work of the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, the We Belong Together delegation showed how Alabama—and Georgia and Arizona and South Carolina and anyone else who may try—just hurts itself, and by extension everyone in the U.S., when it launches attacks on and tries to limit the potential of immigrants.