Why Alabama's Immigration Bill Is Bad for Citizens

The state is trying to embed immigration enforcement into everyday life, thereby making government even more omnipresent

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The immigration law passed in Alabama last week is meant to make it far more difficult for illegal immigrants to live in the state. Should it take effect on September 1, they'll find it harder to find jobs, rent apartments, obtain medical care, enroll in college, interact with police, or even to get a ride across town. That's as it should be, advocates insist: they're in the country illegally, and are likely to leave if undocumented life is sufficiently arduous. Opponents of the bill believe that giving those here unlawfully a "path to citizenship" would be better solution to the problem.

Ignored is the impact this legislation is likely to have on American citizens and legal immigrants in Alabama. Are restrictionists so keen on attrition that they're willing to impose significant burdens on their fellow citizens to get there? As Rep. Mickey Hammon, the sponsor of the bill, told his colleagues, his handy work "attacks every aspect of an illegal alien's life" and "is designed to make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves."

But insofar as "their" lives overlap significantly with "ours," lawful residents also are affected.

"Alabama's new law will require schools, businesses, and landlords to verify the immigration status of their students, employees and tenants, respectively," Caroline May writes. "Police will be allowed to detain people on suspicion of being in the country illegally and it will be unlawful to give a ride to an undocumented immigrant."

Yes, a simple ride in a car could be verboten.

These various burdens aren't created equal. It is eminently reasonable for law enforcement to check the legal status of anyone it legitimately arrests and incarcerates. It isn't as if doing so imposes an undue burden on criminals found to be here legally. In business, most employers already have a process for new hires. All are required to employ folks eligible to work here. And E-Verify isn't particularly burdensome. It even helps some workers to efficiently prove their status.

But it makes little sense to force educators to collect data on undocumented students, especially since kids here illegally won't be kicked out. Surely administrators, principals and teachers have more pressing tasks than collecting immigration statistics. A prohibition against renting to illegal immigrants also inserts the state into the daily life of Alabamans. It's a role that should be resisted. Do we really want the act of renting out a room for a month -- or subletting an apartment -- to turn into a formal process with more red tape and barriers? Isn't moving painful enough? Plus some landlords, fearing legal sanction, are inevitably going to error on the side of caution by turning down all prospective tenants who are Hispanic. And maybe get fined for that, too, if caught.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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