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The Unexpected Emerges From Ala. Immigration Law


Alabama's facing an uproar over its new immigration law. And yesterday, an Atlanta appeals court blocked a portion of the law that required schools to track the immigration status of students. Proponents say it's opens up jobs for legal residents, but the law has been creating unintended consequences. As Andrew Yeager reports from member station WBHM, it starts with routine government business.

ANDREW YEAGER, BYLINE: Almost a hundred people line up, waiting for the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham to open. Once it does, a security officer barks instructions.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Weapons-free, weapons-free. Keep that in your mind. Going through the metal detectors, no weapons.

YEAGER: The people at the front of the line say they've waited since 4:30 in the morning. The first time Erryca Smith's came here...

ERRYCA SMITH: I stood in line back past the fountain here, and I was here over six hours.

YEAGER: Smith's back again because of a complication with her car tag paperwork. The lines are long in Birmingham partly because of budget cuts, but lines at courthouses across the state have lengthened since Alabama's immigration law went into effect.

The law requires anyone doing business with the state, such as car tags and licenses, to prove he or she is allowed to be in Alabama. Mobile County is spending $150,000 for equipment to comply with the law. The state has rolled out a new verification system aimed at speeding up the process. Erryca Smith generally agrees with the law.

SMITH: But the thing of it is, is that, you know, don't penalize us all because of it. You know, find another way.

YEAGER: Some people get visibly angry as they talk about the situation. County officials have tried to reduce the stress by putting out port-a-potties for people in line. A local radio station performed a stunt where they had a tortoise race the line. The tortoise won.

The immigration law has left police with confusion. There have been a handful of arrests, but several police chiefs around the state have said they're holding back until they can get training and clarification on the law. They also point out there's no extra funding for increased enforcement.

Schools have seen a spike in absences and withdrawals among Hispanic students. That has Michael Wilson concerned. He's principal of Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham.

MICHAEL WILSON: That time out of the classroom is huge. So it's kind of a ripple effect from there.

YEAGER: Wilson says the ripple starts with students falling behind. Then they may not do as well on standardized tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind Law. When those scores are reported, every category of student has to advance to meet the goals. One of Wilson's categories is Hispanic students. That could tip the balance.

WILSON: Failing school. It doesn't say missed one goal. It says failing school.

YEAGER: State and federal education funding is based on number of students, leaving administrators at schools with significant Hispanic populations nervous as they see families flee the state.

Proponents of Alabama's immigration law have said its enforcement will create disruptions. But they will subside. Seems, though, the law's more subtle effects are still emerging as the law continues to work its way through the courts.

For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager in Birmingham.


SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Yeager