If you thought the do-it-yourself anti-immigrant schemes couldn’t get any more repellent, you were wrong. New laws in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina are following — and in some ways outdoing — Arizona’s attempt to engineer the mass expulsion of the undocumented, no matter the damage to the Constitution, public safety, local economies and immigrant families.
The laws vary in their details but share a common strategy: to make it impossible for people without papers to live without fear.
They give new powers to local police untrained in immigration law. They force businesses to purge work forces and schools to check students’ immigration status. And they greatly increase the danger of unreasonable searches, false arrests, racial profiling and other abuses, not just against immigrants, but anyone who may look like some officer’s idea of an illegal immigrant.
The laws empower local police officers to demand the documents of people they meet, and to detain those they suspect are here illegally. That means they can make warrantless arrests for assumed civil immigration violations, a stunning abuse of power.
The laws also make it illegal to give a ride to the undocumented, so a son could land in jail for driving his mother to the supermarket, or a church volunteer for ferrying families to a soup kitchen. They require businesses to check employees against the error-plagued federal E-Verify database, and to fire those who are flagged as unauthorized. Once the purge takes hold in agriculture, there will be no one left to pick onions, peaches and cotton. The immigrant labor shortage is already being felt in Georgia, where crops are rotting and the governor has called for using jobless ex-convicts in the fields.
Alabama’s law is the most extreme. It forces public school districts to determine the immigration status of students and their parents and report the data to the state. Alabama still can’t bar them from enrolling, since the Supreme Court declared in Plyler v. Doe that all children are entitled to a public education. The state’s law seems designed to challenge that ruling, as it turns school officials into de facto immigration agents and impels frightened parents to keep their children home.
It has long been clear that America is suffering for lack of a well-functioning immigration system that better protects workers and families, promotes lawfulness at the border and in the workplace, and gives hardworking people a path to legality.
Congress’s inaction has let the states run amok with their own destructive ideas. Supporters insist they are only trying to enforce the law. But trying to catch and deport 11 million people is lunacy. The damage to this country — its citizens and its laws — is enormous.
Civil rights organizations are suing or threatening to sue to block these noxious state laws. So far federal courts have enjoined parts of bad local laws in Arizona, Georgia, Utah and Indiana. President Obama’s Department of Justice has sued Arizona but not the other states. It needs to fight harder.