SPLC victorious against Alabama anti-immigrant law

Alabama’s vicious anti-immigrant law, which passed in 2011 amid warnings that it was unconstitutional, has been effectively gutted by an agreement the SPLC and other civil rights groups have reached with the state to permanently block key provisions of the law – adding Alabama to a list of states that have seen their anti-immigrant laws stopped by federal lawsuits.

The agreement, announced today, also significantly limits racial profiling under the law’s “papers, please” provisions that allow police to demand “papers” of individuals they suspect are in the country without authorization.

Provisions of the law that have been temporarily blocked by the courts will be permanently blocked under the agreement, effectively ending a 2011 lawsuit the SPLC and a coalition of civil rights groups brought against the law known as HB 56.

“We warned the legislature when they were debating HB 56 that if they passed this draconian law, we would sue in court and win,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC senior staff attorney. “That we have done. Now it is time for our state lawmakers to repeal the remnants of HB 56, and for our congressional delegation to support meaningful immigration reform that will fix our broken system.”

The state also will pay the coalition’s attorney fees and costs, as required by federal law. Alabama joins Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia and other states whose anti-immigrant laws have been stopped by the courts.

“I am thankful that most of the law has been permanently blocked and that tranquility has been restored to the Hispanic community,” said Maria D. Ceja Zamora, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I am glad to see there are still organizations like those that brought the lawsuit to help stop discriminatory laws like HB 56.”

Under the agreement, police cannot hold someone during a traffic stop solely to check immigration status. This is a significant victory because many departments across the state believed the “papers, please” provisions allowed them to detain people just for that purpose. The coalition will remain vigilant to ensure these abuses do not continue.

The following parts of the law have now been permanently blocked:

  • Requiring schools to verify the immigration status of newly enrolled K-12 students.
  • Criminalizing the solicitation of work by unauthorized immigrants.
  • A provision that made it a crime to provide a ride to undocumented immigrants or to rent to them.
  • A provision that infringed on the ability of individuals to contract with someone who was undocumented.
  • A provision that criminalized failing to register one’s immigration status.

Though this is a significant victory, challenges remain, including ensuring that police act within the narrow confines agreed to in the settlement and that they do not engage in racial profiling; that immigrants in Alabama are given equal access to services in the state; and that Congress passes meaningful immigration reform so that no state legislature is tempted again to pass such misguided laws. The SPLC will continue pursuing all of these goals.

Groups joining the SPLC in filing the lawsuit included the National Immigration Law Center; the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and ACLU Foundation of Alabama; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; LatinoJustice-PRLDEF; Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC; and private attorneys Brian Spears, Freddy Rubio and Ben Bruner.