Last week FAIR’s own Ira Mehlman participated in an online debate by Homeland Security News Wire. Ira’s counterpart was Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center at the American Immigration Council – an open border lobby group. Topics during the online debate ranged from President Obama’s new administrative amnesty enforcement strategy to how to ultimately solve the immigration problem in the U.S. (for which Ms. Giovagnoli provided scant solutions). One of the most interesting exchanges came during a question posed by the moderator concerning the recently passed Alabama immigration enforcement law. Make sure to note that Ms. Giovagnoli provides no statistics to support her argument that the new law will hurt Alabama economically as badly as SB1070 hurt Arizona.

Homeland Security News: In your opinion what is the impact of the sweeping immigration law passed in Alabama? As a follow up, do you see it as indicative of a broader trend among states?

Ira Mehlman: The immigration law passed by Alabama demonstrates two things: 1) Illegal immigration is a controllable phenomenon, and 2) States have the legal ability to protect citizens against the harmful consequences of mass illegal immigration.

For years, advocates for illegal aliens have been arguing that their presence here is an immutable fact. In reality, illegal aliens are extremely rational people who respond to the messages we send. When we make it clear that illegal immigration will be rewarded with jobs and access to public benefits and services they respond rationally and come. When, as Alabama and Arizona have done, we send the message that we intend to enforce our laws illegal aliens again react rationally and leave. Because the federal government refuses to enforce many immigration laws and some state and local governments encourage illegal immigration, illegal aliens leaving Alabama can go to other locations around the country, although some do return to their homelands. If we implemented and enforced policies nationally that made it clear that we are serious about enforcing our immigration laws we could significantly reduce the illegal alien population through attrition.

Alabama’s immigration law has been ruled constitutional by a federal judge and largely upheld by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. This ruling builds on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year upholding an Arizona law requiring all employers to use the E-Verify system to check the eligibility of their workers. In that five to three decision, the Supreme Court ruled that states have a legitimate role to play in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

As other states grapple with the burdens associated with mass illegal immigration they are likely to look at the beneficial results of Alabama’s law and the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling on the law as a model to emulate. On the other hand, other states, for political reasons, are likely to continue to provide official or de facto sanctuary to illegal aliens. These discrepancies are likely to persist until the federal government begins to do its job.

Mary Giovagnoli: Alabama state legislators behind the punitive new immigration law (HB 56) claim it will solve the state’s economic problems. However it’s more likely to inflict deep economic damage on Alabama’s already struggling state economy as costs to implement and defend the law run into the millions of dollars. Other states like Arizona who have also passed these types of laws have experienced a chilling effect on state businesses that depend heavily on foreign talent and investments, and this will be no different for Alabama. Also, the additional burdens on Alabama’s law enforcement imposed by this law will hamper their effectiveness. Reports show the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office has already cut 20 percent or more of its budget this year, eliminating 145 deputy positions.

Alabama schools and administrators will also have to bear the burden of enforcing the new law. The Principal of one elementary school in Alabama reportedly said, “We don’t have the personnel to do all the work that is needed to find out which parents are legal. That’s my biggest concern—putting it off on the schools to police illegal immigration. I don’t think school is the place to do that; we don’t have the resources.”

While five states did pass these types of local laws, twenty states rejected them in 2011. State lawmakers are understandably frustrated by the inaction of immigration and have tried to step in and regulate immigration themselves. However, immigration is currently regulated by the federal government and should remain that way. That being said, there is a way to tackle immigration reform locally that helps your economy, labor force and local communities and there are ways to tackle it that jeopardize local business, institutions, workers and families. In the case of Alabama they have done the later.

Check out the full transcript of this debate here. It is well worth the read.