18 May 2012

Governor calls special session over Alabama’s tough US immigration law

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Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has called a special legislative session of the state's lawmakers, urging them to reconsider the effects of Alabama's US immigration law.

US immigration

Alabama Governor Bentley has called a special legislative session over the state's controversial US immigration law.

Alabama's law, HB 56, is widely regarded as the toughest US immigration law in the country, even tougher than Arizona's controversial SB 1070. A slightly softened version of the bill passed through the Alabama Senate and House of Representatives but was not signed by the governor.

Instead, a special legislative session was called by the governor for further debate into the law's effects. While the bill retains widespread support from voters within the state, criticism of the bill has been rife with several protests and condemnation from civil rights groups as well as church leaders, law enforcement and business groups.

The bill prevents illegal immigrants from receiving public benefit, prevents landlords from renting to illegal immigrants and allows law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect may be in the country illegally.

Governor Bentley originally signed the bill into law in 2011 but called the special session after refusing to sign an updated version of the bill which included sections that required the state to publish information on any court case which involved an illegal immigrant violating state law.

The state of Alabama has been sued by the federal government but is currently awaiting the outcome of Arizona's SB 1070 immigration law which is currently being heard before the Supreme Court before proceeding.

Like Arizona's law, which was written in large by the same author, Kansan Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Alabama's HB 56 has seen a marked effect on the state's immigrant population, many of whom have fled in fear of deportation, leaving large gaps in the labour market.

Alabama's lawmakers claim the special legislative session will be used to make the bill less damaging to citizens without softening its stance on illegal immigration.

"We have had meetings with law enforcement, with government agencies, with businesses, with private citizens and we have had time to see where we could make it more efficient - less burdensome on our citizens and stronger on lawbreakers," said State Representative Micky Hammon, who sponsored the original law.

The debate over Arizona and Alabama's controversial laws has received heightened attention due to the upcoming presidential election in November. President Obama has denounced the laws and his administration has sued both states for their alleged unconstitutionality. However, his likely opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, has previously supported Arizona's SB 1070 as a 'model for the nation'.


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