"They're wanting to know if they're going to get stopped or arrested," said Orlando Rosa, the operations manager for La Jefa. Alabama offers a glimpse of what may lay ahead for immigrants in several states that passed their own strict immigration laws modeled at least in part on Arizona's. Of those five states, only Alabama had been allowed by federal courts to enforce the "lawful stop" or "show me your papers" provision until this week. That could change now that the Supreme Court upheld the section of Arizona's law that requires police to check the status of people who might appear to be in the U.S. illegally. The court overturned three other parts of the Arizona law.
Georgia, South Carolina, Indiana and Utah also approved laws based on Arizona's. All or parts of the laws were blocked in each state, and legal challenges can move forward now that the Supreme Court has ruled on the Arizona law. Already in Alabama, even a chance encounter with police scares many immigrants. But they fear the Supreme Court decision could make things worse. "Alabama is the lab for this part of the law," said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery-based advocacy group that is opposing the Alabama law.
Javier Hernandez, who has been living in Alabama without documents for 12 years, spends time before he drives checking things like headlights and blinkers to make sure police don't have a reason to pull him over. "You have to always be alert, make sure the cops don't stop you," he said through a translator, adding that he entered the country illegally to support his wife and two sons back in Mexico. In northeast Alabama, where a large number of Hispanic immigrants work in poultry plants, Pastor Fernando Rodriguez moaned when he learned of the Supreme Court's ruling. With a congregation of about 300 people, he fears the decision will mean Alabama police become more aggressive. "It's terrible," Rodriguez, of Lus a las Naciones in Albertville, said Tuesday. "Right now there is a lot of concern about the cops."
So far, the worry isn't translating into a new exodus from Alabama — at least yet. Management at two Birmingham-area mobile home communities with large Hispanic populations said they don't know of anyone moving out because of the ruling. Still, some immigrants — both legal and illegal residents — say they are terrified of the requirement. They fear detentions will split families apart. Many Illegal immigrants in Alabama say they are afraid to leave home, so they often travel at night. Some use cellphones and text messages to avoid police roadblocks. After parts of the law took effect last year, many parents signed legal documents allowing others to care for their children in case they are deported. Rosa, the radio station worker, said listeners panicked reflexively when they heard something on the news about "Supreme Court," ''police," and "immigration," prompting the flood of calls. "They're worried, frustrated, wanting to know how it's affecting Alabama," said Rosa.