Alabama now has the toughest immigration law in the nation. Leave it to a state some 1,200 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border to show Arizona how it's done.
What's next: saguaro-care tips from Wisconsin?
Regardless from whence we get our cactus-care guidelines, we do know the Arizona judge's decisions that quashed large sections of Arizona's version of the law rendered it basically useless. U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton only upheld a few portions of the highly controversial law, also known as big, bad SB 1070. One was stiffer penalties if you are caught crossing the border with illegal immigrants stuffed in the back of a piñata truck or hiding them in an unfinished Phoenix garage.
Bolton killed off the part about police checking immigrant status during traffic stops, detentions and even arrests.
"There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens," she riled. It was unclear if her quote came before or after she nixed the law's other requirement that legal immigrants carry their citizenship papers around at all times, which would help prevent such arrests. But no, she said, carrying all that paper would be too much of a burden.
Bolton also did not like the part about it being illegal for an undocumented immigrant to have a job—which certainly makes sense, since there are dozens of lucrative positions to go around in Arizona.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Alabama, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn upheld sections of the law that were similar to those blocked in Arizona. She actually approved the law's provision allowing police to check a person's immigration status during traffic stops and arrests if a "reasonable suspicion" exists that the person might be here illegally.
She gave the thumbs-up to the part requiring elementary and secondary schools to check the immigration status of incoming students.
She also said OK to the sections about voiding any contracts people knowingly made with illegal immigrants, and barring any transactions between illegal immigrants and any division of the state. The latter has already led to one Montgomery man having his application for water and sewage service denied, according to The New York Times.
That's really gotta stink.
Not every provision was upheld by Blackburn. Those she squashed, however, left the law's effectiveness largely intact. She got rid of the part about barring illegal immigrants from attending or enrolling in public universities. She also blocked the section that outlawed the harboring or transporting of illegal immigrants—perhaps due to Alabama's dearth of piñata trucks and unfinished Phoenix garages.
Some are already complaining, such as the American Civil Liberties Union's Andre Segura, who is quoted in the Times. "We're really disappointed," he said. "We already know that this is going to cause a lot of problems in Alabama."
It sure will—for illegal immigrants.
The drastically different rulings in the two states are definitely ironic, especially since both came from U.S. District Court. What's even more ridiculous than the drastically different rulings are the hoops through which a state has to jump when it is simply trying to uphold an existing federal law.
Illegal entry into the U.S. is a crime, federal law says. The list of "grounds for aliens' inadmissibility or removal" ranges from health concerns to child-abuse convictions, from lack of proper documentation to "the likelihood of their becoming a public charge."
Yet when states want to go ahead and do something about it, there is a fair chance that the fear of stepping on toes will set in. It might not be politically correct. It might hurt someone's feelings. It might spark a lawsuit.
The Alabama judge's bold move is definitely a welcome breakthrough that will hopefully become the norm rather than an anomaly. Too many others find it easier to simply live with an existing problem rather than make waves by actually doing something about it.
Bolton was even quoted as saying it was less harmful "preserving the status quo" than it would be to uphold parts of the law that may result in the mistaken arrest of legal immigrants.
It's a good thing not all laws are decided by such wishy-washy standards. That would mean no one would ever be wrongfully arrested—simply because no one would ever be arrested at all. And then we could use all the money we saved on prisons for something useful, such as planting and caring for saguaro cactuses grown in Wisconsin.