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Voter, immigrant rights under attack in southern states


States around the nation, in an effort to address what they allege are two issues of major concern–the flow of undocumented immigrants into their environs and the level of illegal voting–have passed a number of controversial laws that are galvanizing opponents.

In Alabama, the state Legislature is currently revisiting its anti-illegal immigration law House Bill 56 and has presented a list of revisions it plans to use to tweak the legislation passed in 2011.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, temporarily blocked the enforcement of two provisions of the Alabama law: One voiding contracts signed by those in the United States illegally and another prohibiting illegal immigrants from having transactions with the state for services. The effort to change the law is being pushed in part by some of the state’s business leaders, who are seeing the harsh economic impact of the statute. It is also in response to the court’s blockage.

A new study by an economist at the University of Alabama found the law would cause the state to lose 70,000 to 140,000 jobs, $2.3 to $10.8 billion in gross domestic product (1.3 to 6.2 percent of the state’s economy) as well as potentially up to $264.5 million in state income and sales taxes and as much as $93.1 million in local taxes.

The report, produced by Samuel Addy, Ph.D., also projects that the state economy could be reduced by $5.8 billion if 60,000 workers making an average income of $25,000 left Alabama.
Addy’s report also noted that illegal immigrants make up about 24 percent of the workers in the agriculture, construction, food service and drinking industry, but says that business owners can not hire enough legal residents, even in a distressed economy to fill these jobs.

Among the changes being considered for HB 56 under the new legislation HB 658 are:
*Increasing the penalty to 60 days instead of 10 for businesses caught hiring illegal immigrants
*Simplifying the verification process for public benefits and services
*Revisions that would allow the state to ensure that illegal immigrants cannot attend public colleges and universities.
*Clarifying that the reasonable suspicion calculations occur upon the issuance of any traffic citation or upon any lawful arrest rather than upon any lawful stop, detention or arrest.
*Expanding reasonable suspicion beyond the driver of a vehicle to include passengers in the event of a traffic citation or arrest.

The House of Representatives in neighboring Mississippi just last week passed its anti-illegal immigration law, “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act (HB 488).” The measure goes to the state senate, where it is expected to be approved and sent on to Gov. Phil Bryant, who says he supports the measure.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has vowed to sue the state if the bill is passed.

The action is the product of a Republican-dominated Legislature and governor.

A number of other Southern states, including Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia, passed similar immigration laws at the start of the year and these were all in the wake of a similar controversial law passed in Arizona in 2010.

The U.S. Supreme Court plans to consider a challenge to Arizona’s law in April.

The immigrant laws coupled with new Voter Identification legislation passed in South Carolina in May and signed by Republican Gov. Nikki Hayley have civil rights organizations scrambling on multiple fronts.

In March, a number of groups, including the NAACP recreated the Selma to Montgomery March to address what they call attacks on civil rights gains of the past.

The NAACP, alongside National Action Network, AFL-CIO, SEIU and several other civil, human and labor rights groups from across the nation completed the march from Selma to Montgomery on March 9 in protest of the modern-day attacks on voting rights and Alabama’s racial profiling  law, HB 56.  The march concluded with a rally on the steps of the Alabama state capitol.

“I marched this week for two reasons,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous after the event. “I marched to honor the legacy of those who gave their time-and in some cases their lives-to secure for voting rights for all Americans and I marched to protest the attacks on voting rights, immigrant rights, and workers’ rights that threaten to destroy all of the progress this nation has made since the first march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. I am proud to stand with this coalition of all races, colors and creeds to fight like our predecessors did 47 years ago.”

“Working families have come under attack over the last year or so,” stated AFL-CIO executive vice president Arlene Holt Baker. “Whether it be attacks on our rights at work, losing our homes, attacks on voting rights or threats to new immigrants. But the right to vote is the right that enables all other rights. This is why this year’s Selma to Montgomery march is more important than ever. We must band together from all communities to ensure that every vote gets counted this year-and so that we are able to create an economic agenda that serves the 99 percent rather than just the top 1 percent.”