October 31, 2011; Source: Colorado Independent | In an unusual demonstration of American exceptionalism, the immigration law recently passed by the state of Alabama has been characterized as the strictest such law in the world—not just in the U.S. “We don’t know of a similar parallel, either internationally or elsewhere in the United States, where contracts with unauthorized immigrants are deemed unenforceable,” noted Michelle Mittelstadt, communications director for the Migration Policy Institute. Alison Parker, the director of the U.S. program for Human Rights Watch added, “The only country where we are aware of something that comes close to what Alabama has done” is Italy—referring to a law that makes it illegal to rent to unauthorized immigrants. “What they are doing in the state of Alabama runs in the face of human rights law.” The deputy director of the European program of Human Rights Watch, Benjamin Ward, described the Alabama statute as “unbelievable and horrific.”

And you thought the Arizona statute aimed at illegal immigration was controversial!

Like the Arizona law, the Alabama law will be addressed by the courts, probably piece by piece, with the state’s attempted ban on the enforceability of contracts with undocumented immigrants being the most likely initial component to go down the tubes. Not only does the state probably have little or no ability to establish its own unique rules on the enforceability of contracts, a contract ban might even violate the state’s own constitution.

Unlike Arizona, we suspect that Alabama isn’t quite the hotbed of immigration pressure that motivated Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer to lead the charge for states to develop their own immigration laws in place of federal law. In terms of the percentage of foreign-born residents (http://www.migrationinformation.org/DataHub/acscensus.cfm), Alabama is in the bottom 10 states, with 3.5 percent—compared to Arizona, where 13.6 percent of the population is foreign born. (California, New York, and New Jersey are the top 3, with over one-fifth—or even over one-fourth, in California’s case—foreign born.) The immigrant proportion of the population (including immigrants’ U.S. born children) is nearly 20 percent in Arizona, compared to 5.1 percent in Alabama. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that the percentage of Alabama’s population that might be “unauthorized immigrants” in 2010 was 2.5 percent, compared to 3.7 percent for the entire U.S., 6.0 percent for Arizona, and, for the highest in the nation, 7.2 percent for Nevada.

It doesn’t seem like immigration—documented or undocumented—is putting much pressure on Alabama. So perhaps Alabama stands out not only with the world’s strictest immigration law but also the immigration law most out of balance with immigration as an issue in the state. What do nonprofits do in Alabama if they want to serve people in need regardless of the paperwork they carry in their wallets?—Rick Cohen