Alabama has passed the most extreme of the new state immigration laws copying Arizona’s statute. Laura Tillman explores how they threaten victims of domestic violence.
Alabama’s new immigration law has abuse survivors and their advocates holding their breath. The law is the latest challenge to those trapped in abusive relationships who have concerns about either their own immigration status, that of their abuser or their children.
Alabama joins a growing list of states that have considered putting immigration enforcement into the hands of local police, though Alabama’s law has gone the furthest. The concept of locally enforcing federal immigration laws has long been thought risky, both because immigration enforcement requires complex training and because enforcing immigration law creates rifts between local police and immigrant communities, thereby making it harder for police to be effective in enforcing other laws—among them domestic violence protections.
“We need to publicize the unintended consequences these laws have,” said Tanya Broder, senior attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “They can look good in the short term, but the situation is much more complicated than that. Our law enforcement priorities are undermined when we try to locally take charge of an issue better handled on the federal level.”
The danger to domestic violence victims lies in the confusion surrounding these immigration laws as well as in their literal application.
Reluctant to Cry Out for Help
The aftermath of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 illustrates the unpredictability of state immigration laws. Even though the core sections of Arizona’s immigration law were blocked, domestic violence programs still reported a decrease in calls for help, according to Lindsay Simmons, advocacy coordinator at the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“The one culturally specific program for Latina victims in the Phoenix area has had about 15 empty shelter beds for a time, which is highly unusual,” Simmons wrote by email. “These laws… served to generate a culture of fear within minority communities.”
Now, advocates in Alabama are waiting to see what the impact of House Bill 56 will have on their comparatively small immigrant population.
“As the bill was originally written, it would have criminalized domestic violence services,” said Carol Gundlach, the executive director of the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Some of the extreme provisions—such as requiring school officials to ask students about their immigration status, and the section that made it criminal to harbor, transport or conceal an undocumented immigrant—have been blocked. But much of the law remains intact.
Photo by taberandrew via Creative Commons
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