How long does it take to flip flop and buckle under pressure from Tea Partiers? About a day, if you're Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.
On Friday, he signed a bill making flawed revisions to HB 56, the nation's most extreme anti-immigrant state law. Just a day earlier, Bentley had declined to sign the new measure, which was rammed through the Legislature on the last day of its 2012 regular session.
Instead, he summoned lawmakers to reconsider the bill in a special session in order to "prevent children from being interrogated" by school officials about their immigration status and the status of their parents. He also cautioned against the "public relations problem" that would ensue from a startling new requirement that the state Department of Homeland Security post online the names of every undocumented immigrant who appears in a state court.
The response from extremists in the legislature came swiftly. Last year Rep. Micky Hammon boasted that HB 56 "attacks every aspect of an illegal alien's life ...so that they will deport themselves." Sen. Scott Beason had urged fellow legislators to "empty the clip" on undocumented immigrants.
So, it should come as no surprise that it was Hammon and Beason who led the charge on the first day of the special session to re-introduce a bill identical to the one Bentley had criticized, with one noxious twist: the state Department of Homeland Security would also be required to a post online a photograph to accompany the name of each undocumented immigrant.
Bentley bent. The original bill was signed.
Much of the law, which promotes racial profiling, is tied up in litigation brought by the ACLU and other civil rights groups. The law has engendered a humanitarian crisis, harming citizens and immigrants alike. It has tarnished the state's reputation and has shrunk the state's economy by billions of dollars.
Bentley was hardly alone in highlighting the interrogation of school kids as troublesome. The provision directly targeting children of immigrants has done more than anything else in HB 56 to make Alabama a pariah, generating scorn across the U.S. and internationally to millions who remember the state's shameful civil rights legacy.
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange recommended its repeal, calling its defense in litigation a drain on resources whose costs greatly outweighed its benefits. Let's call it what it really is: beyond the pale.
The other provision Bentley had momentarily objected to involved the posting of the names of undocumented immigrants who appear in state courts, along with the names of the judges who hear their cases and the decisions rendered. This "scarlet letter" applies regardless of whether there has been a conviction. It is a naked attempt to bully judges into imposing harsher sentences and refusing to release immigrants from detention and will expose immigrants to harassment and vigilantism.
What Beason blithely referenced as one more "tweak" to HB 56 is actually a reckless doubling down on his "empty the clip" approach that will mire Alabama in more controversy and litigation.
If there is a bright side, it is that this episode will further spur a growing movement to repeal HB 56 in its entirety, a movement with much stronger resolve than Bentley.