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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

Law Tests Alabama's Appeal

Wall Street Journal: This state has prided itself on its ability to attract international companies like Daimler-Benz AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and ThyssenKrupp AG. But negative publicity stemming from Alabama's new anti-illegal immigrant law threatens to complicate the state's efforts to continue luring foreign investment, some business leaders say.

Those concerns have intensified with the recent detentions of two foreign auto workers under the law.

On Monday, a Japanese employee of Honda Motor Co., Ichiro Yada, was cited for failing to produce a government-issued driver's license—a violation of the new law—and detained for approximately 45 minutes at a routine license checkpoint set up by police in Leeds.

The checkpoint wasn't aimed at nabbing illegal immigrants, but rather at reducing crime and closing outstanding warrants, said Leeds police chief Byron Jackson.

The charge against Mr. Yada was dropped Thursday after he provided proof that he had a Japanese license, Mr. Jackson said.

Two weeks earlier, a Mercedes-Benz executive was arrested in Tuscaloosa County, also for failing to produce a valid driver's license. He was taken into custody at the police station, and later released on his own recognizance bond after a fellow employee brought his German license. The charge eventually was dropped.

Under the law, failure to produce a driver's license is a misdemeanor.

Some economic-development leaders say their jobs have become more difficult as a result of episodes like these, as well as national and international criticism that the immigration law harks back to Alabama's racist past.

The measure, which was signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley in June, is considered the toughest in the country.

Parts of it were blocked by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October, but key provisions—including a requirement that police check the legal status of individuals they stop whom they suspect of being in the country illegally—remain in effect.

There is some pressure on lawmakers to ease some of the law's provisions, but to date there is little expectation that its central provisions would change.

Some foreign companies that have looked at investing in the southwestern town of Thomasville "now have reservations because of the immigration law," said Mayor Sheldon Day.

"One company in particular stated that until they could find out more about the law and fully understand it, they were going to hold back on visiting," Mr. Day said. He declined to name specific companies.

Greg Canfield, head of the Alabama Development Office, said the law hadn't come up in his discussions with potential foreign investors. The only concerns he has heard have come from local industrial recruiters alarmed by the bad press the measure has drawn, he said.

"Alabama is a state that is very much open to international relationships," said Mr. Canfield, who voted for the immigration law earlier this year when he was still a state representative.

In March, a Chinese company, Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group, announced plans to build a $100 million plant in Thomasville that would mark the first foray by a Chinese manufacturer into the state. While the company remains committed to the project, it has expressed unease to local leaders about the immigration law, according to a person familiar with the matter.

"They're concerned about moving employees to Alabama in the future" and worry that the company's reputation might be affected by locating in the state, this person said.

Alabama scored a coup in 1993 when it succeeded in luring a Mercedes-Benz plant to Tuscaloosa County.

Other foreign firms followed suit in subsequent years, to the point that today, companies from 31 countries have operations in the state, according to the state's development office.

In this town about 40 miles east of Birmingham, Honda opened a plant 10 years ago that now employs 4,000 workers and produces 300,000 vehicles and V-6 engines a year.

The company is now the region's biggest employer, and Lincoln, unlike many rural towns, has seen its population grow, from 4,500 in 2000 to 6,300 in 2010. The fuller tax coffers allowed the town to construct new buildings for city hall and the fire department that are on track to be completed next year.

Honda confirmed Mr. Yada was cited under the law, but declined to comment or make him available for interview. A representative for Mercedes didn't return a phone call.

Representatives of other large international companies, including ThyssenKrupp and Hyundai Motor Co., said the companies remained firmly committed to Alabama and hadn't heard reports of employees being affected by the immigration law.

With many complicated provisions, the measure has created confusion for some law-enforcement officials.

"There's nobody out there saying, 'This is the way you enforce the law,' " said Mr. Jackson, the Leeds police chief.

In Leeds, anyone found in violation typically is detained at a local police station.

In Tuscaloosa, the police chief said 66 people had been arrested under the immigration law between Oct. 1 and Nov. 16 for not possessing a license.

As the measure's effects have become clearer, momentum has grown for lawmakers to modify it in next year's legislative session.

"I made some mistakes in voting for this bill," said Republican state Sen. Gerald Dial. "If you mess up, you need to 'fess up and try to correct it." Though they plan to keep in place the law's central provisions, like the ones that led to the detentions of the auto company employees, he and fellow lawmakers are discussing potential "tweaks," he said.

Among the provisions they want to change or remove are those requiring schools to check the immigration status of schoolchildren and requiring professionals who get re-licensed to prove they're legal.

"Alabamans are caring, compassionate people," Mr. Dial said. "We've got to begin to rebuild that image."

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