Washington – Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said Friday that he and his legislative allies are ready to consider changes to the state's harsh imigration law, but will not alter the essence of the measure.
"The leadership of the Alabama House and Senate and I are working together to develop a bill for consideration at the beginning of the next legislative session. The bill's purpose is to clarify and simplify the current immigration law," the Republican governor said in a statement.
Bentley said he wants to see an enforceable law that "reflects the hospitable nature of Alabamians."
HB 56, which criminalizes the presence of undocumented immigrants in Alabama, has provoked multiple lawsuits by the Justice Department and various organizations and is already having a negative impact on the state's economy.
The governor said Alabama enacted the measure because the federal government failed in its responsibility to enforce U.S. immigration laws.
"We recognize that changes are needed to ensure that Alabama has not only the nation's most effective law, but one that is fair and just, promotes economic growth, preserves jobs for those in Alabama legally, and can be enforced effectively and without prejudice," Bentley said.
The speaker of the lower house of the Alabama legislature, Republican Mike Hubbard, emphasized that the body "isn't going to repeal or weaken this law."
The announcement from the governor and legislative leaders comes amid mounting evidence of the confusion HB 56 is causing, as citizens and legal permanent residents find themselves being detained on suspicion they are in the country illegally.
Thousands of immigrants have fled the state, leaving many Alabama businesses without customers or employees, especially in the agriculture and service sectors.
Aware of the negative attention generated by HB 56, Gov. Bentley said he was "reaching out internationally to reassure our global partners that the business climate in Alabama is as strong as ever, and our people and communities are as inviting and welcoming as we've always been."