Thursday, January 24, 2008
Facts, not fears, should shape immigration rules that made sense. We need a fair and unified policy on immigration. What we don't need is the kind of reaction displayed in a proposal by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee earlier this month.
Created last year by the Legislature, the commission was asked to hold public hearings and offer a list of recommendations to lawmakers that would unify the state's conflicting policies on immigration.
That made sense. However, one of the people who proposed forming the commission now says privately that its work has bogged down as special interests have dominated it.
The commission is expected to report next month to the Legislature. Until it does, we'll keep an open mind about the quality of its recommendations.
However, its public hearings don't look promising.
In Huntsville, 300 people, mostly white and middle aged, packed a public hearing. They wanted to vent - about illegal immigration, businesses hiring illegal immigrants, and spending tax money to pay for health care and social services for illegal immigrants. When an Hispanic woman tried to speak, it took a police officer to stop some from trying to shout her down.
A hearing in Hoover, was much the same. More than 200 people attended, mostly to complain bitterly about lax enforcement of existing laws.
A final hearing in Mobile last week was the polar opposite. Few people attended; most who did expressed glowing support for migrant workers.
What the commission will make of all this anybody's guess. The earlier hearings left little doubt that immigration is an emotional, hot-button issue that inflames passions on both sides.
We need a fair and unified policy on immigration. What we don't need is the kind of knee-jerk reaction displayed in a proposal by Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee earlier this month.
Huckabee, the likeable former Arkansas governor, wants to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent children born to illegal aliens in this country from automatically becoming American citizens.
He promised the founder of the reactionary Minuteman Project that he would force a test case in the Supreme Court to challenge birthright citizenship.
Coming from a guy who as governor sought to give illegal aliens college benefits, complained about federal immigration raids in Arkansas and refused to order the state police to enforce immigration laws, that's pretty bizarre.
Huckabee's record and his proposals on immigration are all over the board - just like Alabama's existing laws and policies. That's what happens when political policy panders to the emotions of the minute.
We only hope the Alabama immigration commission isn't relying solely on the emotive public hearings in making its report. We need hard facts - facts on numbers of immigrants; their impact on the state economy, schools, health care and social services; and the practicality and cost of legislative action.
Only if there is a sound body of facts is there likely to be a sound body of recommendations.