12/12/2011

Alabama’s Anti-Immigrant Law Dealt Yet Another Major Blow

A federal judge today temporarily blocked a provision of Alabama’s notorious anti-immigrant law that threatened to push families out of their homes if they couldn’t prove their lawful status.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is the latest blow to the ill-conceived law, HB 56. It came in a lawsuit filed last month by the SPLC and a coalition of civil rights groups.

Under the state’s application of Section 30 of the law, anyone applying for an annual mobile home registration tag – or a tag renewal – was required to produce papers proving their citizenship or legal status in order to continue living in their mobile home. In blocking the provision, the court found that there was substantial evidence that the law was adopted with discriminatory intent against Latinos.

“This latest ruling cuts to the heart of the deficiencies of HB 56,” said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer. “This law was written from a place of hate to target one group of people: Latinos. While we are incredibly pleased the court has blocked a provision that would push families out of their homes, sadly, this law is still wreaking havoc across our state, creating a humanitarian crisis. So, we will continue to fight it with everything we have.”

This provision, which criminalizes business transactions between state officials and people who cannot prove citizenship or immigration status, would have left undocumented immigrants in an impossible position: attempt to renew the mobile home tags they need and risk being charged with a felony under HB 56, or refrain from renewing tags and therefore face criminal charges and fines.

Thompson previously granted a temporary restraining order that allowed families to renew their mobile home tags.

“This decision helps put the brakes on an inhumane law that has already forced some families out of their homes,” said Justin Cox, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The court’s reasoning indicates that many applications of this law, including denying water and other essential services, are also unconstitutional.

Added Stephen Dane, an attorney with Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC: “Judge Thompson’s decision reaffirms that discriminatory housing practices are illegal, and that all people are protected regardless of immigration status. This ruling sends a clear warning to other states and local governments that denying housing to immigrants violates the law.”

The ruling comes as the damaging effects of HB 56 are becoming more apparent and spurring calls for revisions and even repeal. In a five-page letter released early last week, the state attorney general advised lawmakers to revise major portions and repeal other provisions. Then, late Friday, Gov. Robert Bentley and the leaders in both the Alabama House and Senate released their own statement acknowledging major flaws in the law.

“This Court saw this section of HB 56 for what it was: a race-based attack on Latinos and their ability to stay in their homes as if they are causing our economic problems,” said Foster Maer, attorney with the LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We hope that courts across the country will carefully read this decision and come to understand that states cannot commandeer this country’s immigration laws to serve such a nefarious goal.”

After auto executives from Mercedes-Benz and Honda were detained under the law, Gov. Bentley said he was worried the law could hurt recruitment of foreign industries, prompting Bentley to reassure foreign executives they’re welcome in Alabama, according to news reports.

Despite HB 56 being touted as a “jobs bills” by its sponsors, farmers have seen their workers – regardless of immigration status – flee the state rather than live under HB 56. Crops have been left rotting in the fields.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan held a conference in Mobile Tuesday designed to connect farmers with workers. McMillan said at the conference that a failure to address this labor shortage will have “a substantial economic impact in Alabama,” according to the (Mobile) Press-Register.

Two larger suits challenging HB 56 in its entirety and several provisions in particular are also under way. One suit was brought by the U.S. Justice Department; the other was brought by a coalition of immigrant rights groups and individual plaintiffs.

“The mobile home case shows that the full effects of pernicious laws like HB 56 aren’t really felt until these laws are allowed to go into effect and wreak havoc on local communities,” said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center. “State legislators considering adopting draconian and racist laws in their states would do well to examine the high humanitarian cost of HB 56 on all Alabamians, and refrain from following in Alabama’s misguided footsteps.”