HB 658 preserved many of the most heinous provisions of HB 56, including provisions modeled on Arizona’s SB 1070 which are held up right now in a Supreme Court challenge. Despite months of attempts and near daily rewrites to the bill in an effort to refine the language of HB 56, the new law left intact provisions that compel law enforcement officers to question anyone who appears to be undocumented. The state also left intact the provision that bars undocumented students from any public institution of higher education in Alabama, and mandates that K-12 schools gather data about the immigration statuses of students and their parents. A provision which requires private employers to adopt E-Verify, a worker verification database that’s ostensibly designed to crack down on bosses who hire undocumented workers, was unchanged.
On Wednesday, lawmakers also passed a bracing new provision which calls for the state to create a public, searchable database which includes the name and personal information of any undocumented immigrant who appears in Alabama state court for any reason. Immigrant rights advocates have taken to calling it the “scarlet letter” provision because it would unfairly brand immigrants.
In other instances, provisions like one that makes it illegal for undocumented immigrants to rent property, were modified, but only in ways that serve to strengthen the rest of the law as a whole.
“Our worst fears were confirmed today,” said Luis Robledo, an organizer with the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, who spoke with Colorlines just after the Senate vote. “It’s just a monster. [Lawmakers] doubled down and made it worse for the community.”
The scarlet letter provision in particular encapsulates the driving ethos of the rest of HB 56, say experts. “I can’t figure out a legitimate public interest that it serves,” said Justin Cox, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project who was in the statehouse observing proceedings on Wednesday. “I don’t understand what they hope to achieve with it other than making people so uncomfortable in their homes than they have to move.” That impulse has a name: lawmakers and immigration restrictionists call it “enforcement through attrition,” whereby a state makes conditions so harsh and unlivable for immigrants that they leave the state on their own, or as some refer to it, “self-deport.”