Alabama Voters Weigh in on Immigration Debate

A Tuesday news conference in Montgomery, members of several immigrant advocacy groups asked state lawmakers not to pass legislation that would penalize illegal immigrants. They contend the federal government should address the issue first.

But federal immigration reform is still a long way off. Some say it may not become a reality until after the 2008 presidential election. That's why many Alabama voters say the state should take action.

Voters who spoke to WSFA 12 News admit that illegal immigration is not a personal issue for them.

"It doesn't affect me personally," said Debbie Deal.

But they do think it's an issue that needs to be addressed.

"I think it's a problem in Alabama," Deal also said.

Two of nine related bills before the state legislature would penalize Alabama businesses that hire illegal immigrants and seize the cars of illegals involved in traffic accidents -- not the right solution, according to some.

"This is an economic issue. It's not a criminal issue," said Jeanne Charbonneau, who grew up in southern California, where illegal immigration is an even bigger problem.

Charbonneau says penalties aren't the answer.

"Drug smugglers? Sure, lock 'em up and throw away a key," she said. "But people who are working as an illegal nanny or working in a field harvesting crops that would haven't been harvested otherwise? Those people should not be penalized.

"We need a system and process in place that can differentiate," Charbonneau explained.

But most voters also agree, the state legislature should not wait on the federal government to take action, especially now that the national debate looks like it may never end.

"If the people of Alabama are not happy with the way it's conducted on a national level, it should be regulated by the state," Deal said.

Reporter: Mark Bullock