By Dana Beyerle
Times Montgomery Bureau
Last Modified: Saturday, January 28, 2012 at 9:00 p.m.

MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s immigration law will get an overhaul in the 2012 legislative session, but Republicans last week vowed that it won’t be repealed, as some Democrats want.

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, and House Minority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, sponsored what became the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, a measure patterned after an Arizona law that has become as controversial as any law in modern Alabama history.

Almost as soon as Gov. Robert Bentley signed the bill, it was challenged in state and federal court, including a challenge by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Parts of the law have been upheld and parts are being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

State Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, has prefiled a bill to repeal the law, but Hammon said that “will not happen.”

“We’re working on definitions and things that will make the bill easier to understand and easier to enforce,” Hammon said Friday.

Hammon worked on the bill for years and introduced it because he believes illegal immigrants were costing the state money. He said he became frustrated when Washington didn’t enforce federal immigration laws.

“We didn’t just throw it together,” Hammon said. “The fact that a lot of our bill has been upheld in the courts already shows the fact that we have written a good one.”

Industry recruiters on Thursday said some states Alabama competes against for jobs are using the immigration law as a weapon to show Alabama is unfriendly to foreign companies.

Beason said he doesn’t believe it because international companies have to deal with more stringent immigration laws outside the United States.

“I’m not buying into that,” Beason said Friday. “Yesterday a Brazilian company (announced an expansion).”

Since passage of what has been described as the toughest immigration law in the country last year, Alabama’s image has taken a beating from Hispanic, church, civil liberties, labor and public interest groups.

Charges of profiling and images of Alabama’s racist past entered the debate. Farmers feared losing their seasonal migrant labor help and businesses that cater to Alabama’s significant Hispanic population said they were hurting. The state has an estimated 130,000 illegal immigrants.

At least one legislator now regrets what looked like a good idea last year.

“Clearly the Legislature and myself who voted for it made a mistake, and it has caused a huge, embarrassing public relations problem in the state, giving us a black eye,” said Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville. “We need to repeal the symbol this bill has become, and then enact responsible and a workable (legal employee verification) program.”

Bentley asked Attorney General Luther Strange to compile a list of potential fixes so a rewrite can pass legal muster.

Strange declined comment, but Bentley’s office released a comment. “The governor has had a number of productive conversations with legislative leadership about Alabama’s immigration law,” spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said.

Ardis said Bentley wants to clarify and simplify the 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.”

Hammon said some of Strange’s recommendations made in December may be acceptable. “We’ve looked at recommendations from a lot of different sources, and we will choose those that will not weaken the bill,” he said.

Beason said his intention is to avoid removing entire sections and making major changes, while clarifying how the law is administered.

Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, said he would prefer to see a U.S. Supreme Court review of the immigration law.

“I do not favor the idea of repealing the whole thing at all,” Allen said. “It would make sense to maybe wait until the Supreme Court makes its ruling, and we’ll have a clear road map on what we need to fix.”

Bedford said adjustments won’t work.

“When something is a symbol, a bad symbol like this law is for our state, you cannot tweak it because the symbol is still there,” he said. “When the churches of Alabama and U.S. Justice Department are both suing the state, you know it’s a huge problem.”

Bedford said immigration should not be dealt with state by state. “President (Barack) Obama and Congress need to enact a national statute,” he said.

Several immigration-related bills have been prefiled for the session that begins Feb. 7. One would add military identification as an acceptable document to prove legal status.

To counter the perception that proof of citizenship is causing long lines at county courthouses during license renewal time, another bill would remove driver’s license, business license and automobile license renewals from the list of transactions requiring proof of legal presence.

The bill requires schools to record the legal status of students, law enforcement officers in some cases to detain motorists for not immediately being able to prove legal residence, residents to produce certain documents to prove legal status for routine government transactions and the legal system to punish Alabama residents and churches for aiding someone in distress who turns out to be an illegal immigrant.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said Republicans in the majority last year rammed the bill through the House and Senate, rejecting attempts to debate the bill and expose weaknesses.

“We hope some of this stays in force, but part of that process is they won’t disallow debate and continue to cloture us when we are trying to explain it,” Ford said.

State immigration law to get rewrite, not repeal |