Alabama Immigration Law Challenged

     HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (CN) – Civil rights groups and unions say Alabama’s new immigration law – touted by Gov. Robert Bentley as “the strongest immigration bill in the country” – may be all of that, but it is unconstitutional.

     The law is to take effect on Sept. 1.
     The federal class action claims Alabama House Bill 56 “is a state immigration law of unprecedented reach – going well beyond recent state immigration laws in Arizona, Utah, Indiana, and Georgia,” and that it will force to submit to “unlawful interrogations, searches, seizures, and arrests, and will result in racial profiling.”
     A dozen unions and civil rights groups were joined by 18 people as named plaintiffs.
     They say HB 56 violates the Fourth Amendment by allowing law enforcement to “investigate the immigration status of any individual they stop, detain, or arrest when they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the individual lacks immigration status.”
     All Alabamans will be required to carry “state-approved identity documentation in order to prevent lengthy investigations as to their status,” the class claims, and people whom police feel may be “foreign … will be in constant jeopardy of harassment and unlawfully prolonged detention and arrest by state law enforcement officers operating under HB 56’s new immigration enforcement mandates.”
     The law will prohibit “Alabamian children in immigrant families – including countless U.S. citizens and non-citizens who have permission from the federal government to remain in the United States – from enrolling in public primary and secondary education.”
     And it will prohibit students from attending any Alabama public college or university, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, the class claims.
     The law imposes penalties and jail time for “innocent daily activities, such as giving a ride to a neighbor, hiring a day laborer, or renting a room to a friend,” in violation of the First Amendment, the class claims.
     And a criminal provision in HB 56 that makes it a state crime “simply to be in the State of Alabama without lawful status,” is pre-empted by federal law, the class adds.
     Lead plaintiff the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a nonprofit that provides services to more than 15,000 people per year, says that if HB 56 takes effect, the Coalition will be “at risk of criminal prosecution for violations of state-created criminal immigration offenses, including encouraging undocumented immigrants to remain in the state.”
     The Coalition says it provides English classes, legal help with immigration and tax help, “without regard to whether individuals are undocumented and with knowledge that some of the constituents who receive these services are undocumented.”
     Plaintiff Matt Webster worries about how HB 56 will affect his two sons, of whom he has legal guardianship, but “whom the law criminalizes until he can petition for their federal immigration status.”
     Webster also fears “what will happen to his children at school when he is required to enroll them and disclose their status.”
     The class wants enforcement of HB 56 enjoined as unconstitutional.
     Lead counsel in the 188-page complaint is Mary Bauer with the Southern Poverty Law Center. Co-counsel includes the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the National Immigration Law Center, and others.
Here are the plaintiffs: the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama; AIDS Action Coalition; Huntsville International Help Center; Interpreters and Translators Association of Alabama; Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice; Service Employees International Union; Southern Regional Joint Board of Workers United; United Food and Commercial Workers International Union; United Food and Commercial Working Union Local 1657;; Greater Birmingham Ministries; Boat People SOS; Matt Webster; Maria Ceja Zamora; Pamela Long; Juan Pablo Black Romero; Christopher Barton Thau; Ellin Jimmerson; Robert Barber; Daniel Upton; Jeffrey Beck; Michelle Cummings; Esayas Haile; Fiseha Tesfamariam; and six Jane/John Does.
     Here are the defendants: Alabama Governor Robert Bentley; Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange; Joseph Morton, State Superintendent of Education; Freida Hill, Chancellor of Postsecondary Education; E. Casey Wardynski, Superintendent of the Huntsville City School System; Jamie Blair, Superintendent of the Vestavia Hills City School System; Randy Fuller, Superintendent of the Vestavia Hills City School System; Randy Fuller, Superintendent of the Shelby Country Public School System; Charles Warren, Superintendent of the DeKalb County Public School System; Barbara Thompson, Superintendent of the Montgomery County Public School System; Jeffery Langham, Superintendent of the Elmore County Public School System; and Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard.

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