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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Monday, December 05, 2011

Alabama Nets More Than Illegal Immigrants

USA Today (Editorial): Alabama's harsh new immigration law has been in effect for less than three months, but it has already wreaked the kind of havoc that's inevitable when legislators are so obsessed with driving out illegal immigrants that they don't think much about who else gets hurt in the process.

Growers have seen immigrant labor disappear and produce rot in the fields as they try to recruit the citizens the law's proponents promised would do the work the illegal immigrants were supposedly stealing from them. An outfit called Grow Alabama hired more than 50 legal workers to pick tomatoes, but most quit in a day or two, and only one stuck it out for two weeks.

Some of the fallout is faintly comical. A Mercedes-Benz executive visiting from Germany was arrested in Tuscaloosa while driving without proper ID and taken to jail on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. He was eventually freed, but not before Alabama's governor got involved because Mercedes is one of several automakers with Alabama plants crucial to the state's economy.

Less amusing was what happened to a veteran who had just come home from Afghanistan and was trying to get license plates for his new truck. Because the new law doesn't recognize military IDs, he was told he'd have to come back with his birth certificate. (You don't have to be a citizen to serve.)

Most editorials are accompanied by an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature that allows readers to reach conclusions based on both sides of an argument rather than just the Editorial Board's point of view.

Alabama and a handful of states that have passed similar laws argue that they're just doing what the federal government has failed to do, and to some extent that's true. Immigration laws were so poorly enforced for so long that there are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country. But that does not justify treating Latinos here legally as suspects, not citizens. "It's bringing back old images from 40 or 50 years ago," Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day told The Tuscaloosa News. He said employers he's trying to recruit increasingly ask whether the state is regressing to its segregationist past.

Interestingly, the justification for such laws appears to be evaporating just as they're being enacted. Thanks to tightened border enforcement and a weak economy, the Border Patrol reported arresting just 327,577 people illegally crossing the Mexican border in the fiscal year that ended in September, The Washington Post reported Sunday. That's down from 1.6 million in 2000 and 25% in the past year alone. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has deported more than a million undocumented immigrants and is on a pace to send home more in one term than President Bush did in two.

Aggressive federal enforcement should continue, particularly against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, the primary magnet drawing people across the border. But the need to strike a balance seems plain. Chasing away productive, longtime, law-abiding residents, many of whom have children who are U.S. citizens, serves no useful purpose. GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is the latest to suggest a plan to grant them some form of legal status. Sadly, his proposal was greeted with disdain from his competitors, who seem locked in a contest to prove which of them can be most mean-spirited.

There might be a backlash growing, most interestingly in Arizona, the first state to vote in an extreme crackdown on illegal immigration. Last month, voters recalled the state senator most closely identified with the law. At the same time, an Arizona State University poll showed that overwhelmingly — by 78% overall, including 69% of Republicans— people favor a path to citizenship for longtime illegal immigrants if they have no criminal record, pay a fine and can speak English.

So there's good news on two fronts: Enforcement is beginning to work, and reason appears to be gaining traction. That might not yet be true in Alabama or in Congress, where bipartisan attempts to write a new compact have repeatedly failed, but if trends are sustained, a pragmatic solution seems only a matter of time.

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