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Arrest of Mercedes Executive in Alabama Renews Debate Over Immigration Laws

November 22, 2011
Related Topics: Legal Compliance, Staffing and the Law, Immigration, Managing International Operations, Global Employment Law, Policies and Procedures, Legal, Latest News
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A 46-year-old Mercedes-Benz executive was arrested in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, last week during a routine traffic stop for not having a proper form of identification, according to news reports.

The arrest prompted national debate over the reach of immigration laws, particularly those in Alabama.

Police stopped Detlev Hager because his rental vehicle did not have updated tags, according to news reports. When asked for his driver's license, Hager could only produce his German identification and was arrested per protocol, said Spencer Collier, director of the Alabama Department of Homeland Security.

Mercedes-Benz is a unit of Daimler AG and it operates a plant in Vance, Alabama, that produces Mercedes GL, M, R and C class vehicles.

"[Hager] was arrested under Alabama's motor vehicle code for not having a valid driver's license," Collier said. "If you don't have a valid driver's license after a valid traffic stop and the officer can't ascertain that you've ever had a valid driver's license then an officer can bring you to the magistrate."

Alabama's immigration law is considered among the toughest in the nation, according to legal experts. Some parts of the code, such as requiring public schools to determine the citizenship status of students and their parents, have been blocked by federal courts.

And while other portions still remain in question, federal courts have not yet ruled on the legality of the provision used to arrest Hager.

Mercedes-Benz spokeswoman Felyicia Jerald told other media sources Hager is from Germany and was visiting Alabama on business.

It is unclear what position Hager holds with Mercedes or how long he has been with the company.

Hager was released from jail when an associate was able to retrieve his passport, visa and German driver's license from the hotel he was staying at, Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steven Anderson said.

Alabama is home to an auto industry that employs thousands of workers through foreign automakers, including Mercedes, Toyota, Honda and Hyundai. Mercedes opened the Vance plant in 1993. The arrest prompted an editorial in The New York Times that noted Germany is Alabama's largest international trading partner. Mercedes recently announced more than $2 billion in new investments in the state through 2014.

"Is this any way to treat a visitor, especially one representing a company that could just as easily invest in some other low-wage state?" the Times editorial noted. "Is this any way to treat anybody at all?"

Collier, when asked whether the law could impede international business in the state, said the incident involving Hager was isolated.

"That would be a decision the legislature would have to make," he said. "We're an executive agency."

Collier said he could safely say, however, that the governor has said there may be some areas that need to be looked at "as far as efficiency," though "[the governor has] been very clear that the intent of the legislation will remain and will not be weakened."

Other experts worry the arrest and ongoing debate over immigration laws may backfire at a time of high U.S. unemployment and stagnant wage growth.

Danielle Emerson writes for Automotive News, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

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