Eliberto Gonzalez, says grace before a meal. Gonzalez is from Guatemala originally and lives with his wife, who is from Mexico, and their six kids in Asbury. Eliberto works and lives on a children kitchen Church in German growing tomatoes and raising chickens.
He found the job with the help of a former priest at the local Catholic church in Albertville. With that rallying cry, Alabama passed HB 56 in 2011, the harshest state immigration law in the country. Among its key provisions: landlords were banned from renting homes to undocumented immigrants, schools had to check students’ legal status, and police were required to arrest suspected immigration violators. Even giving unauthorized immigrants a ride became a crime. The vast scope of the law turned Alabama into an unprecedented test for the anti-immigration movement. If self-deportation didn’t work there, it’s hard to imagine where it could. Early reports suggested success: undocumented immigrants appeared to flee Alabama en masse.
Its most far-reaching elements have proved unconstitutional, unworkable, or politically unsustainable. Elected officials, social workers, clergy, activists, and residents say an initial immigrant evacuation that roiled their communities ended long ago. Many who fled have returned to their old homes. Now Alabama is back where it started, waiting for a solution from Washington that may never come. Inside a poultry farm in Asbury, Ala. When HB 56 passed, Albertville—where the booming poultry industry had attracted thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America—quickly became the national face of the crackdown. Supporters of Alabama’s law argued it was necessary because Congress had repeatedly failed to pass a workable immigration policy of its own.
If we wait for the federal government to put this fire out, our house is going to burn down. That concern drove Alabama to pass the nation’s toughest legislation but it is not alone in its desire to stem the flow of undocumented workers. Arizona, Georgia, and South Carolina have all passed similar laws over the last three years and legislatures around the country are debating more immigration-related bills. If Congress once again fails to pass reform, more states will be tempted to fill the void with measures aimed at either integrating their immigrant communities or kicking them out. But as Alabama’s bitter experiment confirms, a go-it-alone approach is no substitute for a federal solution.