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NILC Files Lawsuit Challenging Alabama’s H.B. 56

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

July 8, 2011

CONTACT: 

Adela de la Torre, NILC, (213) 674-2832; delatorre@nilc.org
Marion Steinfels, SPLC, (334) 956-8417; marion.steinfels@splcenter.org
Elizabeth Beresford, ACLU national, (917) 498-9697 or (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org
Nikki Cox, ACLU of Alabama, (334) 265- 2754, ext. 205

MONTGOMERY, Ala.  The National Immigration Law Center and a coalition of civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit today challenging Alabama’s extreme anti-immigrant law, HB 56, passed last month. The draconian law is even more restrictive than the Arizona law it was inspired by—Arizona’s SB 1070.

The Alabama law chills children’s access to public schools by requiring school officials to verify the immigration status of children and their parents; authorizes police to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops; and criminalizes Alabamians for ordinary, everyday interactions with undocumented individuals. The lawsuit charges that the extreme law endangers public safety, invites the racial profiling of Latinos, Asians and others who appear foreign to an officer, and interferes with federal law.

The coalition filing the lawsuit includes the National Immigration Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Alabama, the Asian Law Caucus, and the Asian American Justice Center. The law is set to take effect September 1.

The lawsuit charges that HB 56 is unconstitutional in that it unlawfully interferes with federal power and authority over immigration matters, in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; subjects Alabamians including countless U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to unlawful search and seizure, in violation of the Fourth Amendment; unlawfully deters immigrant families from enrolling their children in public schools; unconstitutionally bars many lawfully present immigrants from attending public colleges or universities in Alabama; and drastically restricts the right to enter into contracts.

Alabama is the fifth state to have enacted laws emulating Arizona’s controversial and costly SB 1070, even though the Arizona law was blocked by the courts. In a stinging rebuke to these unconstitutional laws, federal courts have also halted implementation of similar laws passed in Utah, Indiana and Georgia. The coalition has announced plans to challenge the latest state to pass an Arizona-inspired anti-immigrant law, South Carolina.

The filing of the lawsuit was announced at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in downtown Montgomery.

“If allowed to take effect, this law will deter parents from enrolling their children in schools, restrict the ability of individuals and businesses across Alabama to freely engage in commercial activities, and restrict ministers from fully administering to their parishioners’ spiritual and other needs,” said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center. “In short, Alabama’s law will affect the daily lives of countless residents, native-born and foreign alike. Alabama cannot constitutionally turn teachers, landlords, and community members into de facto immigration enforcement agents. We look forward to adding HB 56 to the roster of discriminatory laws that have been blocked by federal courts.”

“We have filed this lawsuit today because Alabama’s immigration law is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This law revisits the state’s painful racial past and tramples the rights of all Alabama residents. It should never become the law of the land.”

So far, none of these discriminatory anti-immigrant laws passed by the states have been fully implemented due to legal challenges.

“Alabama has brazenly enacted this law despite the clear writing on the wall: Federal courts have stopped each and every one of these discriminatory laws from going into effect,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Local Alabama communities and people across the country are shocked and dismayed by the state’s effort to erode our civil rights and fundamental American values. Just as we’ve stopped similar draconian laws in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia from going into effect, we will do so here in Alabama as well.”

“HB 56 is the harshest version of the SB1070 copycats we have seen so far,” said Sin Yen Ling, senior staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus. “Requiring schools to verify a student's immigration status forces teachers to become law enforcement officers which is counterproductive to creating a positive learning environment. HB 56 should be struck down as unconstitutional.”

“Alabama's HB 56 comes at the unacceptably high cost of sacrificing the U. S. Constitution. This law, if allowed to stand, will create a two-tiered system of justice in Alabama, which all Alabamians should fight against,” said Olivia Turner, executive director, ACLU of Alabama. “In the nearly fifty years since the historical and worldwide movement for civil and human rights began in our state, real progress has been made. But this law threatens to pull us back to a dark and shameful past—and one in which all Alabamians were held back.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit reflect the far-reaching and devastating impacts HB 56 would have if allowed to be implemented even for a single day. Plaintiff Matt Webster and his wife are in the process of adopting two boys. These children do not currently have federal immigration status but are in the process of acquiring it based on their U.S. citizen adoptive parents. Alabama’s immigration law will criminalize these youths and make it illegal for Webster to transport and provide for these children.

“I will be considered a criminal for harboring, encouraging and transporting my own sons,” he said. Webster added, “I am furious that our state representatives have wasted and will continue to waste taxpayer money with this law. I am a Republican and probably agree with many of our Republican legislators on most issues. On this one, however, I do not.”

The law has also raised concerns from faith-based organizations that provide community services.

“Today, our mission and the missions of many religious groups across Alabama have been made impossible by the recently enacted Alabama immigration law,” said Scott Douglas, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This law interferes with the free exercise of religion. It violates core values of various faiths because it criminalizes acts of love and hospitality commandments from our God of many names.”

Other agencies that work with immigrant communities are concerned the law may criminalize their work.

“We are fearful that HB 56 will lead to another era in this state of racial profiling and discrimination and foster hate and separation, rather than welcoming and community-building,” said John Pickens, executive director for Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “What we need is a comprehensive national immigration policy, and our state legislative leaders, and Governor Bentley, should be urging our congressional representatives in Washington to support comprehensive immigration reform, rather than spending time passing and trying to enforce piecemeal state immigration laws.”

The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (¡HICA!), a social service organization that works with the Latino community, joined the lawsuit because of the damage the law will inflict across the state.

“If implemented, HB56 will cause irreparable harm to Alabama’s reputation, to the vitality of our economy, and to the well-being of hardworking immigrant families that ¡HICA! works daily to engage and empower,” said Isabel Rubio, executive director of ¡HICA!. “With no other recourse remaining, ¡HICA! must join this lawsuit to stop HB56.”

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on behalf of several organizations and individuals across the state who will be adversely affected by the law.

Attorneys on the case include Bauer, Sam Brooke, Andrew Turner, Michelle LaPointe, Dan Werner, and Naomi Tsu of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Cecillia D. Wang, Katherine Desormeau, Kenneth J. Sugarman, Andre Segura, Elora Mukherjee, Omar C. Jadwat, Lee Gelernt, Michael K. T. Tan and Freddy Ruibio of the American Civil Liberties Union; Joaquin, Karen C. Tumlin, Tanya Broder, Shiu-Ming Cheer, Melissa S. Keaney, and Vivek Mittal of the National Immigration Law Center; Sin Yen Ling of the Asian Law Caucus; Erin E. Oshiro of the Asian American Justice Center; and G. Brian Spears, Ben Bruner, Herman Watson, Jr., Eric J. Artrip, and Rebekah Keith McKinney.

See the complaint in the lawsuit. (PDF)

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