By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - Alabama's crackdown on illegal immigrants, widely seen as the toughest in the United States, could cost the state's economy up to $10.8 billion, according to a new study.
The Alabama law, passed in June, requires police to detain people they suspect of being in the U.S. illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason, among other measures.
The cost-benefit analysis by University of Alabama economist Samuel Addy estimated up to 80,000 jobs could be vacated by illegal immigrants fleeing the crackdown, costing Alabama's economy up to $10.8 billion.
The lost jobs would cost Alabama up to $264.5 million in lost state sales and income taxes, and as much as $93.1 million in lost city and county sales taxes, it found.
At the low end of the range, Addy found the crackdown could cost Alabama's economy $2.3 billion.
Representative Micky Hammon, a Republican who co-sponsored the legislation, could not be immediately reached for comment on the findings.
A U.S. appeals court has blocked Alabama from enforcing parts of the law, including a provision that permits Alabama to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children upon enrollment. But the court left most of the law untouched.
State Republicans who support the law say it will help create jobs for legal residents by driving out undocumented workers and their families, and save up to $280 million they said is spent by the state each year on health and education services for the undocumented.
Addy said he based his findings on the Department of Homeland Security's estimate that 120,000 illegal immigrants live in Alabama, and assumed some 40,000 to 80,000 workers could leave the state. As for income, Addy used an annual range of $15,000 to $35,000 per worker, below the state's average income of about $40,000.
Alabama's Bureau of Labor and the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations declined to comment on the figures.
The study served up ammunition to critics of the law in the state, which is trying to trim spending to balance its budget.
"It is hypocritical for 'no tax and spend' Republicans to pass something like this that sucks money right out of the general fund when we are cutting funding by 25 percent," said state Representative Patricia Todd, a Birmingham Democrat.
Todd claims that $9 million has already been spent on litigation to defend the new law, a figure she said she received from the legislative fiscal office.
The study added in the costs of healthcare and social services to undocumented people that would be saved. However, it found these savings to be negligible when compared to the increased costs of law enforcement and businesses that now have to run checks on citizenship.
Alabama Legislature convenes February 7. Some defenders of the bill said it may go through a revision. However, the repeal sought by opponents seems unlikely, according to Representative Paul DeMarco, a Republican.
"I do not see and would not support a complete repeal of the law, but will look at recommendations being made by the Attorney General and others," said DeMarco.
There are an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have passed "omnibus" immigration crackdowns since Arizona blazed the trail in 2010 with a law requiring police to check the status of all those they arrested and suspected of being in the country illegally. That measure has since been blocked by a court.
Controversy over the crackdown flared late last year, after two employees with foreign automakers Mercedes-Benz and Honda were stopped by police implementing the law.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Paul Thomasch)