Cheeks Turn Crimson as Alabama Benz Its Stupid Immigration Law

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Glittery Mercedes-Benz

I don't know if this Mercedes-Benz was actually manufactured in Alabama. It's just here to excite you.

I got the inspiration (and leads) for this delicious story from this piece in Alternet, but I’ll try to make it my own.

As you may (or may not) recall, half a year ago the great state of Alabama passed “the strongest immigration law in the country”, which went beyond even Arizona’s “Papers Please” effort.  Here are some choice bits:

The crackdown will require public schools to determine the immigration status of students – an aspect not covered in an Arizona law that has been at the forefront of attempts by several US states to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Under the Alabama law, police must detain someone they suspect of being in the country illegally if the person cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.

It also will be a crime to knowingly transport or harbour someone who is in the country illegally. The law imposes penalties on businesses that knowingly employ someone without legal resident status, and business licences could be suspended or revoked.

What could go wrong?  Let’s take another look at that second paragraph above.

As explained in this story, Alabama arrested a Mercedez-Benz executive when a local cop saw that the rental car he was driving lacked a tag.  He had been asked for his ID, but all he had on him was a German ID card.  No valid U.S. ID card?  Boot to the head!  (By the way, this provision applies to U.S. citizens too.  Hence “Papers, please!”  God help you if someone steals your wallet.)

While a U.S. apeals court blocked the provision requiring public schools to determine the legal residency of children who are enrolling, it said that “Alabama could authorize police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.”  Previously one could get cited for that — which seems defensible.  Now you also get arrested.  This has had some curious unintended consequences.

“It is really ironic and showed the absurdity of this law. Here you have a foreign employer who has brought many workers jobs … caught in this web that is supposed to bring jobs,” said Mitch Ackerman, executive vice president of Service Employees International Union.

Alabama, though, defends its decision.  Asked about the Mercedes exec’s arrest, the Director of the Alabama Development Office said: “In international travel, it is not uncommon to have to produce a passport.”   Coming from the guy tasked with bringing business into the stat, this is … ironic:

Alabama was widely criticized when it offered massive tax benefits to lure Mercedes to Alabama to open its first U.S. plant. The factory was completed in 1996, and its suppliers have an economic impact estimated at $6.8 billion and 41,830 jobs, according to a report in 2006 Center for Business and Economic Research based at the University of Alabama for the Economic Partnership of Alabama.

So Alabama spends a mint to lure these jobs out of states like California, and then it arrests their “job creators.”  Smart!  At least this sort of fiasco would probably never happen again … wait, what’s that you say?

A judge has acted to put a Japanese employee of Honda Motor Company out of his misery by dismissing immigration charges against him, three days after he was booked under Alabama’s new immigration laws that have been billed as the most swingeing in America. Ichiro Yada is one of about 100 Japanese managers of the company on assignment in southern state.  Yada was stopped in Leeds, Alabama, at a checkpoint set up by police to catch unlicenced drivers. He was ticketed on the spot, despite the fact that he showed an international driver’s licence, a valid passport and a US work permit.

… [A]ll drivers are required to carry a valid driver’s licence, either from a US state or from their native country if they are from abroad. The law is designed to trap undocumented immigrants – in practice, Hispanics largely from Mexico – who are no longer allowed to apply for driving licences.

Over the past two months thousands of undocumented Latinos have fled the state and many more have ceased driving for fear of being caught and incarcerated.

Yada is the second foreign car executive to fall foul of the new law. Last month police officers arrested a German director of Mercedes-Benz for failing to carry a valid driver’s licence. The move exposed Alabama to widespread criticism and ridicule.

The inadvertent discomfort of foreign car executives is no joke for Alabama, though. Mercedes-Benz, which opened a plant in Tuscaloosa in 1993, and Honda, which came to Lincoln in 1999, are major employers. Honda has 4,000 employees in Alabama with an investment of about $1.4bn.

Alabama is now involved in the arduous and painful process of “getting a clue”:

Faced with backlash over the detainment of two foreign auto employees, two architects of Alabama’s tough immigration law say they are having second thoughts about the law.

The Republican attorney general is calling for some of the strictest parts of it to be repealed. Some Republican lawmakers say they now want to make changes in the law that was pushed quickly through the legislature.

Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the law, said he’s contacting foreign executives to tell them they and their companies are still welcome in Alabama. The moves comes following backlash from big business after the embarrassing traffic stops of two foreign employees tied to the state’s prized Honda and Mercedes plants. …

Luther Strange, the attorney general who’s defending the law in court, this week recommended repealing sections that make it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to fail to carry registration documents and that require public schools to collect information on the immigration status of students.

I would say that “there’s a lesson here for California,” but I think it’s more than one lesson.  One lesson is: don’t pass immigration laws aimed at Latinos and expect them not to be applied in a color-blind manner, because at least some law enforcement officers have been trained on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and aren’t afraid to do their job properly.

While I’m an immigration rights supporter, I’m not one of those who thinks that all criticism of legal and illegal immigrants is rooted in hate.  (I think that it’s hard to dispute that some of it is, including some examples that you’re likely to see in the comments section of this very post, but not all of it.)  Some of it is rooted in economic competition and in misguided beliefs that immigration costs our society money overall; some of it is even rooted in a general belief in law and order.  (But let’s keep it real: passionate opponents of illegal immigration may want to consider that on my 100 mile drive back from Ventura County yesterday, the speed of traffic flow for much of the trip was around 75 or 80.  So there’s some more lawbreaking for them to be agitated about, as I’m sure they must be.)

Regardless: I hope that we should all be able to agree that whatever laws are proposed should fit within the limits of our pretty-darn-swell Constitution and should not blow up in our collective face.

Immigration is a tough problem; I empathize with those who think that people (and corporate “people”) should not be able to get away with cavalierly breaking the law.  But for those people who think that there is a quick and easy (let alone humane) fix for the problem, I have a suggestion: move to Alabama, while this law still exists in its present form, and live out your fondest anti-immigration dreams before they wise up.

Meanwhile, props to the State of Missouri, whose St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an open letter to foreign auto companies with this to say:

We are the Show Me State, not the Show Me Your Papers State.  … You’ve got two choices. Either ask your executives to carry their immigration papers at all times, or move to a state that understands gemüchlichkeit.

Google Translate let me down on that last word, but my understanding is that it means something like “discomfort” or “inconvenience” or “not treating visitors like pieces of trash.”

(My favorite quote from my research for this post, by the way?  It’s this statement from one Alabama mayor: “”We managed in the past without illegal immigrants to pick the tomatoes here, and I haven’t heard anyone say that if we sent them all home nobody would be left to do that work.”  Those tomatoes are now rotting in the fields after Hispanic pickers fled.  That’s another lesson for California to bear in mind.)


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)