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Last updated 12:11AM ET
March 2, 2021
Immigration Bill Stalled in Montgomery
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - A key issue for the Alabama Legislature going into the 2008 regular session was to find ways the state could curb the influx of illegal immigrants.

But despite the appeal of a crackdown to many conservatives, most of the legislation has gone nowhere.

Dozens of bills were introduced by Republicans and Democrats alike, but with only one day remaining in the regular session, no bill has passed and only three bills remain with a chance of receiving final approval.

University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart said other states and Congress also have had little success in dealing with the issue.

"There's not a consensus of what needs to be done. Social conservatives want to take the hard-line approach. Business interests oppose that," Stewart said.

Stewart said states may have to mostly wait until Congress adopts a national consensus.

But House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, said it's getting to the point where it's hard for lawmakers to wait.

"As long as Congress fails to act, this Legislature and others around the country are going to be under pressure from our constituents to take action," Hammett said.

One of the most passionate proponents of immigration reform in the Legislature is Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale. He said he has watched many of his immigration reform efforts fail because the business community has resisted any effort to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants.

One of the bills that has died would have punished businesses that knowingly hired illegal immigrants.

"I ran into an invisible wall," Beason said. "The core of the matter is that as long as business owners are willing to hire illegals in incredibly large numbers, we won't be able to curtail the problem."

Marty Sullivan, spokeswoman for the Business Council of Alabama, said states should not make business owners responsible for enforcing immigration laws.

"Businesses are not ready or prepared to take that on," Sullivan said. "Our primary position has been that the issue of immigration is most practically dealt with at the federal level."

The issue was important enough that a commission appointed by lawmakers and the governor and called the Joint Interim Patriotic Immigration Commission spent months studying it before the start of the session.

"It is by far the most complex issue I have seen in Montgomery since civil rights," said Jay Reed, chairman of the panel, which held hearings across the state. Reed is also vice president of the Alabama chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.

The main immigration bill that remains on the Legislature's agenda going into the final day of the session on May 19 requires people who apply for public assistance from the state to prove they are in the country legally. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was amended in a House committee to include language requiring law enforcement officers to determine if a person charged with DUI or a felony is in the country legally.

Other bills that could be dealt with by the Legislature on the final day include a measure by Rep. Ron Grantland, D-Hartselle, that prohibits state contracts from being issued to companies that hire illegal immigrants, and a bill by Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, to prohibit cities from establishing laws or procedures to protect illegal immigrants.

Hammett said he expects Orr's bill to be on the work agenda in the House on May 19. He said he supports the bill.

"We don't need to be spending money on welfare benefits for people who are not citizens of the United States," Hammett said.

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