When Alabama's immigration law went into effect in September, it sent shock waves throughout Hispanic communities within the state. Whole families left overnight, parents pulled their children out of school, and city centers became ghost towns as legal and illegal immigrants alike hid from police.
In the months since, a number of illegal immigrants who fled have returned.
"Little by little, it's been calming down," said Gabby Sullivan, a legal immigrant from Mexico who has been helping community groups in the southern city of Robertsdale.
But as Republican legislative leaders promise only minor adjustments to the law and with an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on portions of the law set for March 1, Hispanics are still living "with one foot out of the state, ready to flee for good," Sullivan said.
Evelyn Servin, director of the North Alabama Hispanic Coalition for Equal Rights, said many of the Hispanic people who work in poultry plants around Russellville have completely changed their way of life to avoid running into police.
"People are still afraid to go out," Servin said. "Many of them go grocery shopping at night when they can't be seen in their cars. A lot of them are just staying home and not going anywhere."
Alabama followed Arizona's lead by passing a law last year aimed at making everyday life difficult for the state's estimated 120,000 illegal immigrants. The Alabama law, known as H.B. 56, allowed local police to check the immigration status of people stopped for other crimes, required public school officials to collect data on the number of illegal immigrants enrolling, and forbade illegal immigrants from entering into private contracts or conducting any business with the state.
Federal courts blocked some portions of the law, including the immigration checks at schools. But unlike judges in Arizona and other states who have barred police from checking immigration status during routine stops, U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn in Birmingham allowed the police enforcement provision to go into effect in September.
The effects of those rulings are widespread.
A University of Alabama study released in January found that the law could cost the state up to $10.8 billion per year -- a combination of losing up to 80,000 illegal immigrants who earn and spend money in the state, lost local and state tax revenue, and the costs to enforce and defend the law in court.
Even though schools are now barred from checking the immigration status of new students, parents continue to keep their children out of schools.
In the weeks leading up to the law going into effect, about 1,120 Hispanic students were absent -- typically about 3.5% of the state's 32,000 Hispanic students, according to state Department of Education spokeswoman Malissa Valdes. After the law went into effect Sept. 28, the state has averaged more than 1,500 Hispanic absences each day -- close to 5%.
"While there remains many legal challenges to Alabama's immigration law, its effect on the operation of Alabama's public schools has been minimal, and the initial fear of parents has subsided," state Superintendent Tommy Bice said.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, is working with legislators to fix some portions of the law that have led to confusion and complications for legal residents and businesses.
Jay Reed, president of Alabama Associated Builders and Contractors, said changes would focus on reducing penalties for employers who may inadvertently hire a small number of illegal immigrants, and to reduce the paperwork required by the law. Bentley's spokesman, Jeremy King, said any changes would not diminish the intent of the law of ensuring "that everyone working in Alabama is doing so legally."
One of the few bright spots that civil rights activists see in the H.B. 56 controversy is that all people in Alabama -- U.S. citizens, legal residents and illegal immigrants -- are learning about the bill-making process and the court-review process that has followed.
"It's funny to see everyday people talking about the appellate court system and the fact that the (U.S.) Supreme Court will be issuing a decision in the summer over S.B. 1070 (Arizona's law) and how that will have repercussions for H.B. 56," said Gwendolyn Ferreti, a community organizer in Tuscaloosa. "That's really inspiring, that an immigrant community has gotten to know this so well and so intimately."
Most Popular Stories
- Boehner Lashes Out Against Ted Cruz, Far Right
- TFA Recruiting DACA Recipients
- Hawaii Official Who Release Obama Certificate Only Victim of Plane Crash
- Holiday Shopping Off to a Slow Start This Season
- Ford Plans New Cars, Jobs in 2014
- Gold, Silver Slide on Prospects of Fed Exit
- 'Rape Insurance' Bill Passes in Michigan
- Ted Cruz Coloring Book Selling Briskly
- Kim Jong Un's Uncle Executed
- Grizzly Bears Could Be Taken Off Endangered List