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franklin county times

Local officials believe immigration law has had little impact on county

Ashley Wimberley
For the FCT

After creating a stir around the nation, Alabama’s illegal-immigration law, House Bill 56, has not impacted Franklin County in a substantial way, according to local legislators and other officials.
Illegal immigration is a federal problem that is being taken into the hands of individual states because of Congress’ unwillingness to work with the Obama administration and vice versa, said state Rep. Johnny Mac Morrow, D-Red Bay.
“The president and Congress have let Americans down by not coming up with a national plan,” said state Senate Majority Leader Roger Bedford, D-Russellville.
Some members of the Alabama Legislature tried to amend sections of the bill including one that “made it illegal to take a stranger to church,” Bedford said.  But no amendments were allowed to be passed during the 2011 legislative session.
Immigration is not the issue, Bedford said—illegal immigration is. “Nobody is for illegal immigration. We need a new system.”
Some of the unintended consequences of the bill include having to prove legal residency with every state and local government transaction, as well as the verification of immigration status among students, Republican Sens. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills and Gerald Dial of Lineville told The Birmingham News last November.
If things could have been taken at a slower pace, the “unintended consequences would not have occurred,” Morrow said.
When issues that belong to the federal government are placed in the state’s hands, solutions are attempted without consideration of the consequences, Morrow said. “We do not have the authority to solve the problem.”
Before the law was passed, its supporters, including Gov. Robert Bentley, said that the jobs vacated by illegal immigrants would make employment opportunities for citizens. But the bill has not created the desired economic change.
Professor Samuel Addy of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama told the American Immigration Council that the bill will reduce Alabama’s economy by $40 million without the cost of enforcing the law taken into consideration.
Right now the 11th U.S.  Circuit Court of Appeals has “stayed most of the bad provisions of the law,” Bedford said.  Immigration matters in the Legislature are on hold, and an Arizona immigration case will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 25.
Although the state of Alabama has taken this issue into its own hands, the issue has in a roundabout way made its way home to the federal government, where the true responsibility lies, Morrow said.
Russellville has Alabama’s highest percentage of Latinos, according to an author Gabriel Thompson. It comes in at 26 percent of a total population of 9,820, according to the 2010 federal census.
But in Russellville the law has “created a lot of headaches with all the extra paperwork that involves making a photocopy of drivers’ licenses for our future reference, but made no effects economically,” said Franklin County Revenue Commissioner Gene Ellison.
When U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn enjoined the state’s immigration law from being enforced last year, business around Russellville pressed on, Ellison said. “It’s almost like we never heard of it.”
During the time leading up to the enforcement of the law, some undocumented aliens decided to leave town. “I heard talk of several that left before the bill came into effect, but not a great deal of change around here,” said Mark Swindle of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
According to several business owners, who asked to remain anonymous, there has been no impact on business operations due to the immigration law. A few reported noticing a tinge of fear behind the eyes of some of their hardest workers.
Troy University journalism student Ashley Wimberley of Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., wrote this story as a part of a project partially funded by the Alabama Press Association Journalism Foundation.