Imminent Changes To Alabama Immigration Law?

Some GOP lawmakers in Alabama say that changes to the state's immigration law may be necessary. They're considering tweaking the provision that makes it a crime for Alabama residents to lend charitable aid to anyone who is illegally in the state. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with John Archibald of Birmingham News.

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TONY COX, HOST:

Now, for more on Alabama's immigration law and the changes state lawmakers are considering, we turn to John Archibald. He is a metro columnist for the Birmingham News. John welcome back to the program.

JOHN ARCHIBALD: Hey Tony, how are you?

COX: I'm fine, thank you. Comparisons, John, are being made between the response to the immigration law and the civil rights movement, and this hearing yesterday along with the U.S. Justice Department's actions seem to echo some of those older conflicts. Is this fight about states' rights or something else?

ARCHIBALD: Well, it would be hard to argue that it's not at this point. You know, it's interesting, one of the major talking points from supporters of the law is that this is not about civil rights. It's not the same thing. Yet when the Congress men and women came down last night the head of the Republican Party basically said these are outside agitators. So, if it's not, it certainly uses the same vocabulary in a lot of ways as the civil right struggle.

COX: I don't know whether you were there in Birmingham area during the time of the civil rights. Were you, and?

ARCHIBALD: I was born in April of 1963, right in the heart of the movement here in Birmingham. That was a...

COX: So, my question then is, does it feel the same to you, or does it feel similar?

ARCHIBALD: Well, you know, I would have to really trust what I know from history more than my experiences there. And in Birmingham it does not feel that way because I do feel like Birmingham is a little bit of removed from a lot of the more intense feeling about this. But in a lot of ways you had quite the rally at 16th street, echoing civil rights - one side of it and then you had a similar meeting in Montgomery where supporters of the bill last night basically said we stand firm, we stand firm. So, these divisions continue to build and it had to feel - it does feel more like what I imagine the civil rights struggle felt like than anything I've ever lived through.

COX: This hearing was lead by Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. In fact only one member Congress woman, Terri Sewell, represents a district located within in Alabama. Here's some of what she had to say.

TERRI SEWELL: The partisan gridlock that we have in Washington has really prevented us from taking on this very tough issue, but as you can see I'm here with 10 of my colleagues who have the courage and political will to actually want to do something about it.

COX: So John, what are some of the proposed changes to the law that lawmakers are considering?

ARCHIBALD: Well, so far there aren't any serious changes. There's basically some sanding down of the sharper edges, and some of the more moderating influences in the Republican Party - and it's really remarkable that I'm considering these influences moderating at this point - have basically said we have to make changes so that we can cut out long lines at courthouses, having to show I.D. to get basically any state work done, the things you mentioned in the opening.

But there's mainly been talk of tweaking and not substantial change.

COX: You know, initially there seemed to be widespread support for the law. You were just making some reference to that now. And the last time that we had you on the program, we also heard from the mayor of Albertville, Alabama, Lindsey Lyons, who supports the law, but some of that support is eroding, even by lawmakers who originally supported it, isn't it? Speak a little more to that.

ARCHIBALD: I think some of the support is eroding. One of the architects, one of the sponsors for the bill has been removed from a position of leadership in the party. There are voices within the Republican Party who have come to say it needs work - and let's face it - there haven't been a lot of voices on the Democratic side either, up until now.

So there are discussions about how it has gone wrong, which is to say we've come a long way, but it's got to go an awfully long way further before there's going to be any change because I think statewide it's actually still a pretty popular law.

COX: So there's no discussion about change? There is discussion about where some of the problems may be, but no discussion at the moment about how to address those problems by perhaps amending the law?

ARCHIBALD: Well, there is discussion of amending the law. It hasn't - there's debate about how much amending needs to be done, and some of the more - some of the Republican lawmakers who support the law say it doesn't need to change at all, and more and more by the day are saying it does need to change a little, and very, very, very few are saying it needs to go away.

COX: Now, as you know, we just had Orlando Rosa on, talking about the tour that he took around Alabama. Do events like that have any impact and if so, what is that impact?

ARCHIBALD: I do think they have impact. I don't know that each one individually has a lot of impact, but I do think that they kind of snowball to the point where we reach a consciousness where we understand that this is a problem. Of course, as that goes along, we have situations, like a high ranking Mercedes-Benz executive over the weekend was detained for not having proper papers and, of course, Mercedes is a big economic impact in this state, so...

COX: And this is a German man, correct?

ARCHIBALD: A German man - right - who was stopped for not having a tag on his rental car and was taken to jail. So the business community start to worry about economic impact, not just from farmers and small businesses and delis, but the toll this has on business recruitment.

COX: John, thank you very much. John Archibald is a metro columnist for the Birmingham News, joining us from member station WBHM in Birmingham. Again, John, thank you.

ARCHIBALD: Thanks, Tony.

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