Yesterday evening, lawmakers in Alabama introduced a bill proposing extensive changes to HB 56, the state’s notorious immigration enforcement law. The proposed bill follows extensive criticism from civil and immigrants’ rights leaders about HB 56, as well as numerous lawsuits that prevented more than a dozen of the law’s provisions from taking effect. While passage of the proposed bill—dubbed HB 658—may not reduce the anti-immigrant climate in Alabama, many of the amendments would modify what are widely seen as the most pernicious aspects of the law.

For example:

  • Under HB 56, school districts were required to ascertain the immigration status of all newly enrolling students and submit an annual report listing how many believed to be in the country unlawfully. Under the proposed bill, school districts would no longer be required to collect this information. Instead, the state superintendent would independently attempt to determine the fiscal impact of providing education to the children of undocumented parents.
  • Under HB 56, local police officers were required to investigate the immigration status of any person stopped or detained in public if “reasonable suspicion” existed that the person was in the country unlawfully. Federal courts have blocked similar provisions from taking effect in other states, and an Alabamajudge predicted that it would lead to constitutional violations stemming from excessively lengthy detentions. Under the proposed bill, authorities would no longer be required to conduct such investigations in the field unless a traffic citation was actually issued.
  • Under HB 56, states and localities were forbidden from entering into any “business transaction” with immigrants who are in the country unlawfully. A federal appeals court blocked the provision, which had caused Alabama residents to lose water service in their homes. Under the proposed bill, the term “business transaction” would only refer to the issuance of license plates, driver’s licenses, identification cards, or business licenses.
  • Under HB 56, public colleges and universities were only permitted to enroll U.S.citizens, lawful permanent residents (i.e. “green card” holders), and immigrants with temporary visas. A federal court enjoined this provision because it would prevent many immigrants who are in theUnited States lawfully—such as refugees—from attending Alabama universities. Under the proposed bill, only immigrants who are “not lawfully present” are prohibited from enrolling.
  • Under HB 56, it was a crime to encourage foreign nationals to reside in Alabama if they lacked permission to be in theUnited States, and to rent to any immigrant whom the person knows (or should know) is unlawfully present. A federal court enjoined these provisions because they conflicted with federal immigration law. Under the proposed bill, these provisions would be deleted.
  • Under HB 56, it was a crime to transport any immigrant “in furtherance” of their unlawful presence. A federal court enjoined this provision because unlike federal law, it contained no exception for religious denominations. Under the proposed bill, religious denominations would enjoy such an exception.

At present, the odds the bill will become law remain unclear. And with nearly two months left in Alabama’s legislative session, much time remains for lawmakers to make further changes. But if nothing else, the very introduction of yesterday’s bill validates what critics of state immigration laws have said all along.

Contrary to the original assertions of its authors, HB 56 does not “mirror” federal law, imposes enormous burdens on state and local officers, creates unintended consequences for citizens and immigrants alike, and hinders the objectives of federal immigration authorities. While only a full repeal of HB 56 can repair the damage Alabama has caused, the proposed bill demonstrates a recognition among state lawmakers that it is time to start fixing problems of their own creation.

Photo by Nic McPhee.