Playing the Illegal Alien Card

HalePicBio.jpgFor the past few weeks, I’ve been following a local Birmingham story on undocumented aliens. Mike Hale, the Jefferson County sheriff, has decided to join the battle against illegal immigration. He announced that his office will create a database of undocumented immigrants found in the county. According to the Birmingham News , “any illegal immigrant who comes in contact with deputies – whether as an offender, a county jail inmate or even a victim – is fair game for the database.” The data will be shared with the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (Local sheriffs apparently don’t have jurisdiction to arrest individuals for violation of immigration laws.)

Notwithstanding the need to maintain border control, this expansive policy strikes me as troubling.

First, I worry that it will stifle crime reporting by undocumented crime victims. This is bad all around. The victims cannot rest safe because the culprits are still loose. And since some offenders repeat their crimes, the policy will leave these folks free to target others – documented and undocumented alike. The sheriff’s office is apparently aware of this risk, but simply does not care. When asked about the danger of deterring crime reporting, a department spokesman said: “I hope that’s not a byproduct of this, and if it is, it’s unfortunate. However, we believe the greater good is having information on the people who are in our country illegally.”

Another problem: how will sheriffs know when they come into contact with an undocumented alien? The obvious approach would be to demand that anyone who is not fluent in English, or looks “foreign,” to prove her citizenship or produce a visa. This is pretty unappealing, but as far as I can tell, Hale hasn’t suggested a better idea. Sadly, policies that target minority populations fit too neatly into an Alabama political tradition. Birmingham Blues captures the views of some progressive Alabamians in this regard. I wonder if this sort of policy is common, or is simply a trial balloon.

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3 Responses

  1. Brian Duffy says:

    Its a reaction to the Federal government’s refusal to enforce the law. Undocumented workers have been actively exploited by the meat packing & construction industries for years, and nobody gives a whit about it.

    Actually trying to account for the numbers of undocumented workers may eventually shame the Feds into action.

  2. Matt says:

    There are few things that make you feel less like you are living in a free country than having the police randomly stop you and ask to see your papers. (I know.) This is quite a bad idea. Somehow I doubt that there is any desire to keep undocumented workers from being exploited by the meat packing industry behind this sort of thing. The January 16th issue of the New Republic has quite a good article on similar issues in Arizona (where there might plausibly be worries about disorder and lawlessness, unlike Alabama.) The general conclusion is that many white folk are just nervous about having so many darkies around yammering away in that funny darky talk of theirs. It’s hard not to think that’s the case here, too.

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