Alabama Lawmaker: Undocumented Immigrants Don't Have To Go Home, But They Can't Stay There

WASHINGTON -- Alabama immigration law H.B. 56 is driving undocumented immigrants out of the state, leaving jobs empty and some farms unable to harvest their crops. Most aren't leaving the country, though -- and an Alabama lawmaker says that's fine with him.

Self-deportation from Alabama -- whatever the final destination -- was the goal of the bill, rather than expanding deportation or lowering the amount of undocumented immigrants in the country, Alabama state Sen. Scott Beason told The Birmingham News in a Thursday article.

"It takes away the attractiveness and the things that draw an illegal workforce and it's beginning to have a reduction in the number of people coming here," Beason, a sponsor of the bill, said. "It was not designed to go out and arrest tremendous numbers of people. Most folks in the state illegally will self-deport and move to states that are supportive of large numbers of illegals coming to their state. We were not putting together a deportation scheme."

When Alabama lawmakers passed the law in June, another chief sponsor of the bill said it would be a "jobs-creation bill for Americans," but emphasized its potential positive effects for Alabama specifically.

"We really want to prevent illegal immigrants from coming to Alabama and to prevent those who are here from putting down roots," Republican state Rep. Micky Hammon said.

But driving undocumented immigrants out of the state is not a real solution for the number of unauthorized immigrants in the country generally. It won't help deportation rates, either; the Obama administration sued Alabama to block the law, and federal immigration officials have said they will not assist in enforcement of the law by devoting more resources to deportations from Alabama.

In Arizona, where the federal government sued to block S.B. 1070, a similar law, supporters have also said they want to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state, whether to their native countries or other parts of the United States.

"Our intention is to make Arizona a very uncomfortable place for them to be so they leave or never come here in the first place," Republican state Rep. John Kavanagh, a supporter of the bill, told The Arizona Republic after the S.B. 1070 was signed into law. "So, rather than massive deportations, we are basically going to encourage them to leave on their own."

Critics of the state anti-undocumented immigration bills say such statements of support show that the laws are not serious attempts to quell unauthorized immigration, and instead prove the necessity of a federal approach to the issue.

"All of the sponsors of these bills, from [Arizona Republican Governor] Jan Brewer on, have effectively acknowledged that these state initiatives are not meaningful, lasting solutions to the problem of undocumented immigration," said Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy at Center for American Progress, a progressive organization that has been critical of the Alabama and Arizona laws. "It really shines a spotlight on how important it is for the federal government to step in sooner rather than later, because even states that have gone as far as enacting these measures are acknowledging that they're not solving the problem."

The Center for American Progress reported in March that Arizona would suffer economically for losing its undocumented immigrant population, while states more accepting of unauthorized immigrants could strengthen their economies.

"If they want to make economic winners out of the states that are welcoming and receiving immigrants, then I guess that's their prerogative," Fitz said. "But I doubt that's good for their citizenry."

But supporters of the laws argue that if similar measures were implemented nationwide, they could come close to ending undocumented immigration entirely.

"Our view is that if we had policies like that in place on a national basis, that many, if not most, of the illegal aliens would choose to leave on their own," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports the Alabama and Arizona laws. "We have seen in Alabama, we have seen in Arizona ... that Illegal aliens react very rationally, they decide, 'look, this is not going to work, it's time to go elsewhere.'"