Immigration: Feds to Alabama -- we're watching you
The Department of Justice is sending every law enforcement agency in Alabama a reminder letter. The missives, mailed out Friday, are intended to warn local sheriffs and police chiefs to tread carefully when enforcing a key provision of that state's controversial immigration law. About 156 agencies in Alabama receive federal funding that could be put in jeopardy if they are found to violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Under the new state law, police are required to arrest anyone they believe to be in the United States illegally. The law means police are essentially checking the immigration status of anyone pulled over during a routine traffic stop.
So far, that provision appears to be causing some serious headaches for local and state officials. Last month, a Japanese employee on a temporary assignment at a Honda plant was cited when he was stopped by police at a routine roadblock even though the employee provided officers with a valid international driver's license and his Japanese passport. And a German executive with Mercedes-Benz was arrested after a traffic stop. The man provided police with his German identification. The man was later released after he was able to provide authorities a copy of his passport and a driver's license.
It's little wonder that some local officials aren't happy with the new rules. Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson told the Wall Street Journal that he was worried that enforcing the new provision was intruding on his agency's resources for something "that is really the job of the federal government."
And the new state law is having other unintended consequences. Alabama's revenue commissioner fired off a note instructing all county officials to stop demanding proof of immigration status from drivers wanting to renew car tags.
Alabama is now at the center of the debate over a state's right to enforce immigration rules. It is considered to have the harshest laws on the books even though the number of undocumented immigrants there was estimated to be 120,000 in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Stay tuned. The devastating impact of the law continues to reverberate around the state. Farmers and growers are complaining of labor shortages, while local businesses worry about the damage the measure will do to the state's image and its ability to draw tourists.
Photo: Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division. Credit: Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press