11/18/2011

SPLC, Allies Challenge Provision of Alabama Anti-Immigrant Law Denying Mobile Home License Renewals

The Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of civil rights groups today filed suit in federal court to challenge a provision of Alabama’s harsh anti-immigrant law that threatens to push people out of their mobile homes. 

As it’s being applied, Section 30 of HB 56 requires mobile home owners to prove their lawful status before they can renew their license tags. The section prohibits “business transactions” between the state and anyone who cannot prove their citizenship or lawful status.

“This application of Alabama’s draconian anti-immigrant law threatens to throw families into the street,” said SPLC legal director Mary Bauer. “It’s a flagrant violation of the Fair Housing Act and the United States Constitution.”

The SPLC’s co-counsels in the case are the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU, LatinoJustice and the civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC.

“Section 30 turns state and municipal workers into de facto immigration agents, demanding ‘papers’ before they allow people to continue to live in their homes,” said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center. “HB 56 is often dubbed ‘Juan Crow’ by advocates, and for good reason: the law has drawn a bright line between those it thinks belong in Alabama and those it wishes to drive from the state.”

Mobile home decal fees are considered delinquent if not paid by Nov. 30. Failure to pay on time is a misdemeanor that can result in a fine. In addition, individuals who attempt to renew their decals but are unable to prove their immigration status could be charged with a felony under the state’s anti-immigrant law, because they would be considered an undocumented immigrant attempting to engage in a “business transaction” with the state.

This provision and its application to the mobile home registration requirements puts immigrant families – regardless of their immigration status – in an impossible position. Mobile home owners who are unable to obtain a decal cannot move their homes to a new location because it is illegal to transport a mobile home on public roads without a moving permit, which also requires a “business transaction” with the state where immigration status would be checked. 

“Once again, Alabama’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino law requires us to resort to the courts to force the state to respect the most basic of civil rights. Alabama should cut its losses now and repeal this hateful law,” said Justin Cox, a lawyer with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two undocumented Latino immigrants in Elmore County who cannot renew their decals under the law because they would be guilty of engaging in a “business transaction” with the state. They also risk being charged with a misdemeanor if they do not register their mobile home by the statewide deadline. This situation places the men and their families in danger of being forced from their homes. The men are identified as John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 in the lawsuit.

“The passage of HB 56 is having a devastating, disparate impact on Latino families in Alabama, including being deprived of the ability to live in mobile homes, a key source of housing for low-income families,” said Foster Maer, attorney with the LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Latinos should not face a choice between complying with HB 56 or becoming homeless. We are confident that the court, upon reviewing this challenge being filed today, will act to ensure that thousands of Latinos are not made homeless by the implementation of this misguided law.”

Three organizations that provide fair housing services throughout the state are also named as plaintiffs: the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center, the Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama and the Center for Fair Housing, Inc.

The lawsuit names Alabama Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee as a defendant. Magee’s department considers the decal purchases a “business transaction” with the state and subject to HB 56. It also names Elmore County Revenue Commissioner William Harper, the local official charged with collecting the fees in the home county of the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division.