The Extremeness of Immigration Politics in Alabama

Many of the clergy in Alabama are not happy with the state's new immigration law.

One of the provisions of Alabama’s immigration law is that it targets not only undocumented immigrants, but also focuses on persons who do things like transporting or aiding said individuals.

For example, Section 13.a.3 states that:

It shall be unlawful for a person to do any of the following:

(1) Conceal, harbor, or shield or attempt to conceal, harbor, or shield or conspire to conceal, harbor, or shield an alien from detection in any place in this state, including any building or any means of transportation, if the person knows or recklessly disregards the fact that the alien has come to, has entered, or remains in the United States in violation of federal law.

[…]

(3) Transport, or attempt to transport, or conspire to transport in this state an alien in furtherance of the unlawful presence of the alien in the United States, knowingly, or in reckless disregard of the fact, that the alien has come to, entered, or remained in the United States in violation of federal law. Conspiracy to be so transported shall be a violation of this subdivision.

Depending on the circumstances of violation, the violators faces anywhere from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C felony as well as seizure of property, such as vehicles used in paragraph 3 above.

Of course, the key elements above include what “knowingly” means or, even more specifically what “recklessly disregard[ing] the fact[s]” means.  If one hires a day laborer and said day laborer looks Hispanic and speaks Spanish sufficient facts to assume that said person might be in the country illegally?  For that matter, what constitutes “harbor[ing]” and so forth.

This problem becomes more acute if one is a member of the clergy, which is why a number of church leaders in Alabama have filed suit against the new law.  Via the Montgomery Advertiser:   Church leaders: Immigration law will block help to poor:

More than 20 religious leaders and offi­cials with church-operated charities say in court documents that a new state immigra­tion law would block them from providing food, shelter and transportation to the poor.

[…]

Hernan Afandador-Kafuri, priest of La­Gracia Episcopal Church of Birmingham said in an affidavit that about 95 percent of the people served by his church’s social services to Hispanics “lack immigration sta­tus.” He said his church provides transporta­tion for doctor’s visits, English lessons and other services to Hispanic members.

“We do not check any documents or iden­tification and do not plan to. We would never deny anyone services based on their lack of immigration status and do not plan to do so. We are Christians and we serve everyone,” Afandador-Kafuri said.

Of course, the new law raises the question:  since the probabilities are high that some percentage of poor Hispanics are undocumented, are churches who seek to provide them with Christian charity in violation of the law because of the aforementioned “reckless disregard” of these probabilities?

The truly extreme position of some in the state (and at the highest levels thereof) is expressed in the following:

In a response to the claims of the reli­gious leaders, the named defendants in the lawsuit — Gov. Robert Bentley, Attorney General Luther Strange and Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard — said the new law does not discriminate “against some or all religious beliefs.”

The court filing from the governor, Strange and Broussard says the constitution­al right to assemble to worship does not ap­ply to people who are in the United States il­legally.

“A person asserting the right to assemble with an illegal alien stands in the same shoes as one asserting a right to assemble with someone confined to a nearby prison,” said the filing from the governor and the other defendants.

This is a rather stunning statement for two reasons (at least):

1)  It totally ignores the principles of innocent until proven guilty and due process.

2) It equates people who have migrated here for the purpose of finding work with convicted felons.

There is also the bottom line that this entire discussion underscores the degree to which many are utterly indifferent to the actual human beings involved.  All that matters is that these are “illegals.”  If I may be so bold as to note that, like corporations, immigrants are made of people.  Perhaps we could take account of that fact when we make policy?*

In a related note, a colleague of mine (and economist) noted the following Facebook yesterday:

An Alabama tomato farmer said to me tonight, “I changed my position on immigration in a hurry when Alabama’s new immigration law raised the labor cost of my tomatoes from $3 per box picked to $15 per hour of picking…”

And in the thread that commenced:

He said he felt stupid for getting sucked into a bad idea and didn’t think the laws would really make their way to him and his farm.

How anyone thinks that these laws (Alabama’s, Arizona’s, Georgia’s, etc.) are making things better is beyond me.  They seem to me to represent an insidious brew that consists of “do something” syndrome, xenophobia (and in some cases outright racism), and economic ignorance all supercharged by the the fact that national politics make it impossible for Congress to actually address the issue sensibly.

*And in case you are wondering, that sentence is intended to be a bit sardonic.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. PD Shaw says:

    Poor farmer, I wish I could employ my workers below minimum wage, ignore workplace regulations and generally make more money off the back of . . . people.

    This is a rather stunning statement

    All the government is saying is that the right to assemble is not absolute.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Growth by immigration is a major part of Perry’s Texas Miracle…yet the Teavangelicals are against immigration. Jesus was about helping the less fortunate…yet the Teavangelicals are not interested in helping “others”. They claim to love them some Constitution…yet the Teavangelicals are not interested in due process. Just more Conservative Conundrums.

  3. JKB says:

    But the solution isn’t the wholesale debasement of the rule of law by permitting willful illegal conduct. Perhaps these laws will spur at real move toward temporary worker permits, which would fill the labor needs, permit the workers to safely cross the border both ways and permit real efforts to be made to stop terrorist and criminals from entering with the economic migrants..

    But these transportation and harboring laws are targeted at the people who facilitate the crimes. At that root causes by making the employers liable whether they be a farmer or a rich liberal wanting cheap yard work. The quoted farmer apparently never expected a worker to fill 5 boxes an hour or perhaps hourly wages provide incentive to work slower.

  4. mantis says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Poor farmer, I wish I could employ my workers below minimum wage, ignore workplace regulations and generally make more money off the back of . . . people.

    It’s either that or go out of business, lose the farm, etc.

  5. Cynic in NY says:

    It’s funny because you always hear “…they’re a drain on the welfare rolls!” Yet the idea or getting rid of the entitlement programs never comes up or when you suggest to someone that illegal immigration is a cause of the welfare system not the other way around you get a blank stare. My personal favorite I hear from people that are anti-illegal immigration is that we need a welfare system. So those people are complaining about illegals stealing tax payer money believe it’s perfectly ok if a regular citizen steals tax payer money. The “logic” is baffling. The Paleocon/Neocon/Con solution police state tactics to get rid of illegal immigrants is just a distraction to the real problem that Libertarians point out which is the welfare system.

  6. sam says:

    The court filing from the governor, Strange and Broussard says the constitutional right to assemble to worship does not apply to people who are in the United States illegally.

    Of course they’re wrong. That the governor gets it wrong might get a pass, that Attorney General Strange and Madison County District Attorney Broussard get it wrong is inexcusable.

    Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886)
    In Yick Wo v. Hopkins, a case involving the rights of Chinese immigrants, the Court ruled that the 14th Amendment’s statement, “Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” applied to all persons “without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality,” and to “an alien, who has entered the country, and has become subject in all respects to its jurisdiction, and a part of its population, although alleged to be illegally here.” (Kaoru Yamataya v. Fisher, 189 U.S. 86 (1903) )

    Wong Wing v. U.S. (1896)
    Citing Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the Court, in the case of Wong Wing v. US, further applied the citizenship-blind nature of the Constitution to the 5th and 6th amendments, stating “. . . it must be concluded that all persons within the territory of the United States are entitled to the protection guaranteed by those amendments, and that even aliens shall not be held to answer for a capital or other infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”

    Plyler v. Doe (1982)
    In Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law prohibiting enrollment of illegal aliens in public school. In its decision, the Court held, “The illegal aliens who are plaintiffs in these cases challenging the statute may claim the benefit of the Equal Protection Clause, which provides that no State shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’ Whatever his status under the immigration laws, an alien is a ‘person’ in any ordinary sense of that term… The undocumented status of these children vel non does not establish a sufficient rational basis for denying them benefits that the State affords other residents.”

  7. legion says:

    Here’s one for the legal types around here – I’ve never understood the Constitutionality of laws like this that basically co-opt regular citizens into acting as enforcement agents for the government… I mean, if I give a lift to a stranger who happens to be illegal, I’ve broken this law. Do I need to ask everyone I interact with about their citizenship? It’s easy to say (or legislate) “yes”, but how can regular citizens, or churches, or businesses, or anyone outside ICE reasonably evaluate the answer to that question?

  8. PD Shaw says:

    @legion: “I mean, if I give a lift to a stranger who happens to be illegal, I’ve broken this law.”

    Only if you know the stranger is not here in this country illegally. I don’t believe it imposes affirmative obligations. For example, the tomato farmer knows or should know (but is taking affirmative steps to avoid knowing) that his workers are illegal becaue he’s probably paying them cash and not complying with normal regulations and paperwork requirements.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    To give an example, its a crime to give a lift to a stranger who happens to have just robbed a bank and is making a get-away, if the driver knows he is aiding in an escape (and is not doing so involuntarily under duress).

  10. legion says:

    @PD Shaw: But that’s just it – as Steven points out, “recklessly disregards” is crap terminology. I’ll grant you the farmer example, but I think you’re assuming a rationality that isn’t present in the law as written… If a guy has brown skin and speaks english poorly, and I don’t ask him for his papers, am I in violation? Even if I do, how could I (or anyone who’s not an employer or gov’t agency) verify any answer given?

  11. They seem to me to represent an insidious brew that consists of “do something” syndrome, xenophobia (and in some cases outright racism), and economic ignorance all supercharged by the the fact that national politics make it impossible for Congress to actually address the issue sensibly.

    In other words, the Tea Party.

  12. LaurenceB says:

    Out of curiosity, how many here would choose to prosecute Harriet Tubman and those who ran the illegal Underground Railroad to illegally aid illegal escaped slaves? Raise your hands!

    Just wondering.

  13. catfish says:

    This would seem to prohibit a Sunday school teacher from giving a student a ride home from church.
    Who is supposed to check and see if a person is “legal”? I thought the government was to do that, now it seems they want the citizens to do their job for them.
    I am for strict, but sensible immigration laws. When the economy was great, the immigration issue was not a priority. This has gone on for years, encouraged by Rep. and Democrats. Now, they want something done and pass it on to the citizens to do it?

  14. @PD Shaw:

    For example, the tomato farmer knows or should know (but is taking affirmative steps to avoid knowing) that his workers are illegal becaue he’s probably paying them cash and not complying with normal regulations and paperwork requirements.

    The guy who came to fix my air conditioner yesterday was paid in cash and did not result in any paper work. Now presumably he went back to his business and paid sales tax, income tax, etc. on it, but I have no really way of knowing if he did or not.

    Should I be legally liable if he’s later discovered to have been evading taxes?

  15. mantis says:

    Should I be legally liable if he’s later discovered to have been evading taxes?

    Yes. And any traffic tickets he might have gotten on the way to and from your house are your responsibility too. For your sake, I hope he didn’t have a broken taillight.

  16. PD Shaw says:

    @legion: “Reckless disregard” is an established legal term, which I imagine was lifted from some other law, very likely the minimum wage law.

    The farmer may not “know” any given employee is an illegal alien, but if he goes to a street corner where he picks up day labors because he doesn’t have to pay them minimum wage, pay withholding or perform any of the other inconviences obligatory for employers, then he is probably acting in reckless disregard of whether the worker is illegal.

  17. PD Shaw says:

    @Stormy Dragon: No, there are two differences here. First, the tomato farmer basically said that he knows or has reason to know that he is employing illegals, and second, employment relationships are highly regulated at the federal and state level, so that it can be far less likely for an employer to be ignorant of a lot of the circumstances.

  18. catfish says:

    @PD Shaw: Okay – do you want to pay $7.00 for a tomato or head of lettuce?

  19. PD Shaw says:

    @catfish: Do you want minimum wage laws?

    I don’t necessarily know that I get my tomatoes from the U.S. (unless there from my own backyard) and wouldn’t really care where my lettuce came from either.

    I see the minimum wage and employment rules as part of the social compact of the country. These are the minimum standards for people to eek out a modest living in a country with a relatively high cost of living. If that means our labor costs are too high, then the comparative advantage is to a developing country. If the failure of a domestic tomato/lettuce market carries some great national security or economic threat, then the government should pay the wage difference.

  20. @PD Shaw:

    No, there are two differences here. First, the tomato farmer basically said that he knows or has reason to know that he is employing illegals, and second, employment relationships are highly regulated at the federal and state level, so that it can be far less likely for an employer to be ignorant of a lot of the circumstances.

    The problem is that the line between employer and customer gets very fuzzy when you start looking at short term work.