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Alabama nabs foreign auto execs in immigration crackdowns

What’s keeping Alabama’s economic development officials awake at night?

Perhaps it’s the new propensity of state lawmen to snag high-ranking executives of foreign carmakers in immigration enforcement dragnets.

Over the years, Alabama put the welcome mat out for the car manufacturers to come to the state and create thousands of well-paying jobs. But strict enforcement of Alabama’s new immigration ID laws has led to the citing of auto execs from Mercedes Benz and Honda, both of which have plants in the state.

The message to the world: The Yellowhammer State is quite selective in its exercise of Southern hospitality.

First to be arrested was a German director of the Mercedes-Benz factory in Tuscaloosa for failing to carry his driver’s license. Next came the detention of Honda manager Ichiro Yada at a checkpoint in Leeds, Ala,

Yada produced a passport, U.S. work permit, and international driver’s license, none of which satisfied Leed’s law officers . They wrote Yada a ticket and released him on a signature bond.

Police say Yada should have had in his possession either an Alabama license or one issued by Japan. The charges were dismissed only when Yada’s attorney faxed a copy of his Japanese driver’s license to the judge.

The mayor of the city of Leeds said the citation should remove any doubt “we’re going to enforce the laws of state of Alabama.”

The earlier arrest of 46-year-old Mercedes executive Detlex Hager occurred after police suspected his rental car was missing a registration tag. Police now say the car lacked a license tag.

The state’s new immigration law requires anyone stopped by police to show proper identification. After police pulled Hager over, they asked for his papers. All Hager could produce was his German identification. His passport, which shows he was legally in the country on a visa, was back at his hotel room.

Police arrested and charged him under the immigration law for not having the proper paperwork. They released him on his own recognizance after a colleague went back to his hotel room and retrieved his paperwork, news reports say. He has a court date set in the next few weeks to determine his ultimate punishment.

Published reports show 66 people have been arrested in Tuscaloosa alone since the law went into effect Oct. 1.

Mercedes started its first full year of production in Alabama in 1998, when it produced 68,800 vehicles. It was the first automaker to take a gamble on producing cars in the state.

Now Alabama has two more auto assembly plants run by foreign automakers Honda and Hyundai. Toyota and International Diesel produce engines in the state. Further, more than 90 automotive suppliers are in Alabama that serve either Hyundai, Honda or Mercedes.

The Decatur Daily News said in an editorial that the arrest of the Mercedes executive shows the folly of the state’s harsh immigration ID law. “The people of our once-hospitable state should send a thank-you card to the Mercedes Benz executive arrested Friday for violation of the immigration law,” the editorial stated. “The German did more to demonstrate the idiocy of the immigration law in one day than the law’s opponents have managed in months.”

Alabama is said to be courting the German automaker Audi, which is considering building a plant somewhere in the South. Hyundai is also reported to be looking for a suitable cite for an additional plant.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi state Sen. Joey Fillingane has vowed to resurrect his efforts to get an immigration ID law passed. He says he wants to borrow portions of the Alabama law that have the potential to stand up in court.

That gives fair warning to Japanese executives of the Nissan plant in Canton and the Toyota plant in Blue Springs: Keep creating jobs but get your papers in order.


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About Ted Carter


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