Nightly News   |  September 29, 2011

Alabama to enforce ‘strongest’ immigration law

Beginning Thursday, Alabama authorities can question people suspected of being in the country illegally and hold them without bond, and officials can check the immigration status of students in public schools. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> now to alabama where a federal judge upheld the toughest immigration law in the country. a law that tells elementary schools to investigate their kids. one commentator today called this arizona on steroids in terms of immigration. opponents of the law are promising a fight. nbc's kerry sanders in birmingham, alabama , for us tonight. kerry, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. the state immigration law is now on the books here. but those who will have to enforce it are yet to figure out just how they will do that. today, police in alabama have new power. teachers have new responsibilities -- to check people's birth certificates and to enforce what, until now, was federal immigration law . not everyone welcomes the new authority.

>> we don't believe that teachers in alabama public schools should be converted to immigration officers. it's not our job to police the children that come to public school every day. it is our job to teach.

>> reporter: it is estimated more than 120,000 alabama citizens are here illegally. the cost to taxpayers, $290 million.

>> it would not have been necessary to address this problem if the federal government would have done its job and enforced the laws dealing with this problem. [ speaking in a foreign language ]

>> reporter: 39-year-old amanda said she left el salvador and illegally entered the u.s. four years ago. in alabama she cleans houses and babysits.

>> translator: i'm afraid that i will go to work and i don't know if i'm ever going to return to my house.

>> reporter: that's the goal, in part, say alabama lawmakers, to scare undocumented immigrants like amanda so she deports herself.

>> it's about getting the illegal work force to move out and letting alabamaians to plug into those jobs.

>> reporter: americans won't take jobs picking crops. this mexican-american says in this southern state with the ugly history she sees something else in the law.

>> i think it's just hate, not really about jobs.

>> reporter: alabama joins four other states with similar state immigration laws .

>> this is too delicious an issue for politicians not to exploit and that's what's going on. exploiting the public's fear that jobs are being taken away. the borders are being overrun.

>> reporter: officials in alabama say no roadblocks or round-ups are planned but school officials say they will begin implementing this law by checking the birth certificates of new students enrolling in schools here. brian?

>> kerry sanders in birmingham for us tonight. kerry, thanks. there