Photo: Alabama Police and Immigration Law
In the first nine months since Alabama police have been required to check the immigration status of every criminal suspect they encounter, Clanton police chief Brian Stilwell estimates his officers jailed fewer than a dozen immigrants as a result.
The immigrants who were detained, and later turned over to federal immigration authorities in Montgomery, ranged from serious offenders to harried drivers. One had a murder warrant out in Texas. Another was involved in drug trafficking. But others were pulled over for speeding or not having their headlights on. One woman, stopped for driving erratically, was trying to breast-feed her child.
The “stop and verify” provisions — derided by critics as a “show your papers” law — were some of the most contentious parts of Alabama’s sweeping anti-immigration law, which legislators first passed last year. Right away, immigrants either left Alabama or hid out at home to avoid contact with the cops. But police in many areas have been treading carefully while carrying out the new law, stymied by an initial lack of training, revisions to the law and the threat of federal lawsuits.
Even though Alabama is off to a slow start in rolling out the law, it is ahead of the other states, including Arizona, that approved similar measures. Courts blocked laws in the other states, until the U.S. Supreme Court gave its initial approval last month to the approach in a case involving Arizona.
The decision could also affect Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah, which have similar laws. Lower courts must act before those laws can officially go into effect. Meanwhile, Alabama’s police have been checking immigration status since late September.
The state will eventually disclose how many immigrants have been detained as a result of the law, but, for now, advocates on both sides of the issue agree that enforcement has been uneven. Supporters hope many of the practical problems that prevented police from enforcing it more widely have now been solved.