MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- After years of debate, the Alabama Legislature is close to enacting an Arizona-style law cracking down on illegal immigrants and the people who hire them.
But first, the two legislators who have been driving the issue must come together on a bill.
Republican Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale and Republican Rep. Micky Hammon of Decatur said they are optimistic that will happen.
"Our leadership in the House and Senate is committed to passing a tough immigration bill this year," Hammon said.
Hammon's bill has passed the House and has been approved by a Senate committee. It still needs a vote in the Senate.
Beason's bill has passed the Senate but has not been considered by a House committee.
Both bills would require police officers to demand proof of citizenship or residency from anyone they stop for a traffic violation or other infraction if they have reasonable suspicion the person is in the United States illegally. Those whose legal status can't be determined could be jailed and eventually charged with trespassing if they are determined to be in the country illegally.
The bills make it a crime to knowingly house, give a ride to, rent to or employ an illegal immigrant.
They vary in their punishments and whether businesses are held responsible for subcontractors who use illegal immigrants. But the main difference is that Hammon's bill requires all businesses to use the federal E-Verify program, an Internet-based system that allows an employer to check a potential employee's legal status based on information routinely required on employment forms.
Beason's bill requires E-Verify only for companies doing work for the state or through a state grant. He allows other businesses to use whatever means they want to check their new employees. He said he sees no need for a small business to use E-Verify if the owner is hiring someone he's known all his life. Hammon said E-Verify is the best way to make sure jobs go to legal residents.
"The goal of this bill is to have attrition of illegal immigrants in Alabama through enforcement," he said.
Hammon introduced his first immigration bill seven years ago. Beason offered his first bill five years ago. The two Republicans had no luck when Democrats controlled the Legislature, but they said their luck changed when Republicans won a majority in the House and Senate in November.
They've also picked up votes from key Democrats, including House Minority Leader Craig Ford and Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford.
Beason said they were also helped by the downturn in the economy. With more than 9 percent of Alabamians out of work, he said people are more concerned about any available job going to a legal resident.
"This is a jobs bill. We can put more people back to work than any other jobs bill in Alabama just by doing something about illegal immigration," Beason said.
But getting a bill all the way through the Legislature won't be as easy as getting an agreement between the two Republican legislators.
Some Democrats see both bills leading to ethnic profiling and are vowing to fight.
"We're going back to some day we don't want to see, where people can be pulled out of a car because they look like somebody," Democratic Sen. Rodger Smitherman said.
If Beason and Hammon can complete a bill this year, opponents say state officials can look for a legal challenge like the Arizona law faced. Nikki Cox, an attorney for the ACLU of Alabama, said it will cost the financially strapped state government "precious tax dollars to defend."