10/20/2011

SPLC Ready for Long Legal Battle Over Alabama’s Harsh Anti-Immigrant Law

The Southern Poverty Law Center has won some encouraging victories in the months since we launched our effort to defeat Alabama’s harsh anti-immigrant law.

We’ve also had some disappointments. And we’ve seen this law bring fear and chaos to this state. More than 3,000 calls have poured into our hotline for immigrants affected by the law. But this legal battle is far from over. In fact, it’s just getting started.

Currently, the following provisions of HB 56 are in effect:

  • Police are allowed to check the immigration status of people they stop and reasonably suspect are in the country unlawfully.
  • All new contracts between an undocumented immigrant and another person are unenforceable in state court, with the exception of contracts for one night’s lodging, food purchases and medical services.
  • It is a felony for undocumented immigrants to enter into a “business transaction” with the state of Alabama. The scope of this felony remains unclear, but includes applying for a driver’s license or a business license. The provision also include transactions with subdivisions of the state, such as cities and counties.

Beginning April 1, 2012, employers will be required to use e-verify to determine the immigration status of prospective employees.

Other provisions of the law have been temporarily blocked by the courts. These include provisions that:

  • Require K-12 school officials to question students about their immigration status and that of their parents.
  • Prohibit residents from transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants.
  • Make it a traffic violation for motorists who stop in the roadway to hire a day laborer.
  • Prohibit universities from enrolling certain immigrants – including asylees, refugees or those granted temporary protected status.
  • Make it a misdemeanor for failing to complete or carry an alien registration card.
  • Prohibit employers from taking state tax deductions for wages paid to undocumented workers.
  • Allow employers to be sued for discrimination by people with U.S. citizen or legal immigration status when they are fired or not hired by an employer with undocumented employees.

These parts of the law have been blocked as the lawsuits make their way through the courts. The trial and an appeals court agreed with our arguments – and the arguments of others challenging this law – that, among other things, allowing enforcement of these provisions would cause irreparable injury and that we were likely to succeed on the merits of our claims. 

We would have preferred for the entire law to be blocked until a final – and permanent – ruling is reached by the judicial system. While that has not happened, we’re encouraged that we’ve kept several provisions from taking effect.

It’s important because a long legal process is ahead of us. Right now, we have been granted a partial preliminary injunction, which will last until the federal district court makes a final ruling in the case.  It is this preliminary injunction that is currently on appeal in the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (it is also the preliminary injunction that the 11th Circuit expanded by blocking two additional provisions of HB 56 while the appeal is pending).

After the 11th Circuit rules, the same issues could go as high as the U.S. Supreme Court. But that is just the beginning. After the appeals process of the preliminary injunction is over, we will go back to the U.S. District Court and seek a permanent injunction – an order that permanently blocks parts of the law from taking effect.  

The SPLC is ready for this long legal battle. The fear and panic that has spread across Alabama is a stark and frightening reminder of why this law must be struck down. We have seen families pulling their children from school out of fear. Crops are rotting in the fields because workers – regardless of their immigration status – have fled the state rather than live under this law. Families have been told their water supply will be cut off because they cannot produce their “papers.”

This isn’t a viable or humane solution to the problems in our nation’s immigration system. It’s a campaign of fear and chaos that has trampled the rights of the state’s residents. We will not stop until this law is defeated and the rights of all Alabamians are protected.

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