Law could affect legal immigrants

Published 8:57 am Monday, November 28, 2011

Alabama’s controversial immigration law may have had another unintended consequence, some economic development officials worry.

The arrest of a German executive for Mercedes Benz in Tuscaloosa — he had left his ID and passport in his hotel room — has raised questions for some officials about the impression the new law makes on international business leaders.

David Stokes, who serves as chairman of the Escambia County Commission and chairman of the Coastal Gateway Economic Development Alliance, said the law is a “double-edged sword.”

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“You want to make sure, because of terrorist acts on our country, that our borders are protected,” he said. “But at the same time, you don’t want those immigrants who are in the country legally to be hurt.

“I’m on the fence about it.”

And Stokes acknowledged that perceptions of the law can hurt economic development.

“It can negatively affect international business,” he said.

Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day told the Press-Register last week that the law has hurt his town’s ability to recruit businesses. One company that had announced it would locate in the Clarke County town — which is part of Coastal Gateway — recently pulled back from its commitment and could change its mind.

Some Republican lawmakers also said this month they plan to revisit the law, which has been called the toughest in the nation on illegal immigrants. A federal appeals judge last month struck down a portion that required schools to count the number of illegal immigrants in their classrooms. The law also allows local law enforcement to detain those they believe are in the country illegally, among other provisions.

It was that section that forced a Tuscaloosa police officer to detain the German executive; the charges were dropped this week.
Stokes said he understands the need for the law but said he believes it should be more balanced.

“I want to protect the hard-working people of this country before we have a law that allows someone (to work who is not a citizen),” he said. “But at the same time, when you have someone here legally, you don’t want them to feel like they have to flee. That’s not what we’re about.”