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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hispanics are rushing to cross the border — not to get into the United States, but rather to get out of Alabama. In the days following the implementation of the state’s harsh new immigration law, both legal and illegal Hispanic residents have left their jobs and homes before they will experience the new crackdown.

Last week, federal judge in Birmingham upheld parts of the law that enable state and local police to ask for immigration papers during routine traffic stops. Schools are also now required to determine the immigration status of children when they register.

The effects of the judge’s decision were immediate and drastic. The New York Times reports that restaurants, poultry processing plants, farms, and other businesses have seen a significant drop in workers since the law has gone into effect, and many homes have been left vacant. Many local economies depend on Hispanic workers, so the new law bears a large risk of hurting businesses and towns.

What the new immigration law means on a large scale will become clearest in a place like Albertville, whether it will deliver jobs to citizens and protect taxpayers as promised or whether it will spell economic disaster as opponents fear.

Critics of the law, particularly farmers, contractors and home builders, say the measure has already been devastating, leaving rotting crops in fields and critical shortages of labor. They say that even fully documented Hispanic workers are leaving, an assessment that seems to be borne out in interviews here. The legal status of family members is often mixed — children are often American-born citizens — but the decision whether to stay rests on the weakest link.

Backers of the law acknowledge that it might be disruptive in the short term, but say it will prove effective over time.

The immigration law is impacting children as well as adults: Politico reports that 2,285 Hispanic students in Alabama did not attend classes on Monday, which is about twice the usual absentee rate. School officials have tried to assuage parents’ fears about the law, explaining that it will not affect students already enrolled in school for the year.

Even so, some families have clearly decided to not take the risk. The Alabama Department of Education estimates that there are 34,000 Hispanic students in the state, meaning the increasing absentee rates since the judge’s decision to uphold the law could have a major impact on Alabama’s education system. Many of these children are legal U.S. citizens who were born in Alabama, but their parents or other relatives might not be legal residents.

Presumably, the Hispanics who have left have chosen to leave their homes rather than face the possibility of splitting up their families. Or, if they are legal residents with the proper papers, they would rather live in a state where they will not face such constant suspicion and hassle.

Whether people support or oppose the new immigration law, everyone can agree that its implementation is already significantly affecting life in Alabama, with more changes to come.

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