Saturday, September 30, 2023
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‘Anything Short of Shooting Them’

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) - A federal class action claims Alabama's harsh new immigration law unconstitutionally denies state-required registration to mobile-home owners who cannot prove they are legally in the United States. The plaintiffs say Congressman Mo Brooks personified his state's animus against undocumented immigrants, saying, "As your congressman, on the House floor, I will do anything short of shooting them."

The class claims the law denies essential housing services to Alabamans and violates federal housing and immigration policies.

Named plaintiffs, the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center, the Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama, the Center for Fair Housing and two John Does, sued Alabama Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee and Elmore County Revenue Commissioner William Harper, in Federal Court.

The Does sued on behalf of all Alabama residents who own mobile homes and lack proof of U.S. citizenship or legal immigration status, with a subclass of Latino homeowners.

Under Alabama law, people who own or maintain a manufactured home must pay an annual registration fee and display a current identification decal on the home. Stickers must be renewed every year by Nov. 30. Violators face progressive fines and jail time.

But the plaintiffs say Alabama's new immigration law makes it impossible for undocumented homeowners to register their homes and avoid the penalties.

Section 30 of Alabama's anti-immigration law, House Bill 56, prohibits undocumented immigrants from entering or trying to enter into any business transaction with the state. These broadly defined transactions include registering a manufactured home or applying for a permit to move a mobile home on public roads. The law requires the state to check the immigration status of any person entering such transactions through federal verification systems such as SAVE (the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements).

Penalties for noncompliance include up to 10 years in jail.

"Because of defendant Harper's policy, plaintiff Doe #1 and plaintiff Doe #2 face an impossible quandary," the complaint states. "If they attempt to submit the annual registration payment and to obtain a current identification decal as required by Alabama Code section 40-12-255(a), and/or to obtain a moving permit in order to move their manufactured homes out of Alabama by traveling on public roads, they will be subject to the harsh penalties established in HB 56 section 30(d), and they will be denied the decal or permit for which they would be applying. If plaintiff Doe #1 and plaintiff Doe #2 fail to obtain a current identification decal and/or attempt to move their manufactured homes out of Alabama by traveling on public roads without a moving permit, they will be subject to similarly draconian penalties established in Alabama Code section 40-12-255(a), (j), and (l)."

Alabama passed HB 56 on June 2. It makes it a crime for Alabama residents to harbor, conceal, transport or rent property to undocumented immigrants, among other things.

Opponents, including Alabama churches and the U.S. Department of Justice, have challenged its constitutionality.

Section 30, which affects "business transactions" between a person and the state, became effective on Sept. 28.

The plaintiffs say the law specifically targets Latino residents, who are a majority of Alabama's foreign-born population.

"The legislative history of section 30 of HB 56 reveals a plain legislative intent to drive those suspected of being undocumented immigrants, and in particular minority immigrants of Latino heritage, out of Alabama by making living conditions miserable for them or by funneling them into deportation proceedings," the complaint states.

It adds: "At times supporters of HB 56 have spoken in violent terms about their desire to eradicate immigrants in Alabama. For example, at a town hall meeting this summer after HB 56 passed, Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks stated, in reference to his desire to force undocumented immigrants out of Alabama, that '[a]s your congressman on the House floor, I will do anything short of shooting them.'"

Latinos account for about 65 percent of Alabama's non-U.S. citizen population, and more than 27 percent of all Latinos in Alabama live in mobile homes, according to the complaint.

The Does, who live with their families in Elmore County, say the law will force them to abandon their homes, leave behind their jobs and church communities and pull their U.S.-citizen children out of school.

According to the Center for American Progress, Alabama farmers, who rely heavily on undocumented workers, have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of labor shortages in the wake of HB 56.

The plaintiffs say they face increased risk of arrest and detention if the state enforces the law.

The fair housing groups claim the law interferes with their efforts to promote fair housing, wastes their resources, and forces them to abandon other projects to educate the public about the immigration bill.

"Defendants' policy of enforcing section 30 so as to refuse to accept annual registration payments from, and to deny manufactured home identification decals to, members of the class and subclass has injured and will continue to injure organizational plaintiffs Central Alabama Fair Housing Action Center, Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama, and Center for Fair Housing Inc. These plaintiffs have already diverted and will be forced to continue to divert scarce resources away from their core activities in order to conduct education, outreach, and advocacy on behalf of communities throughout Alabama concerning the impact of HB 56 section 30 on immigrants who live in manufactured homes and who face fines, penalties, and the threat of criminal prosecution if they cannot pay their annual registration fees and receive the required identification decals."

The plaintiffs say section 30 violates fair housing laws and the U.S. Constitution, and usurps federal immigration law.

State officials who collect home registration fees do not have access to federal verification systems and cannot accurately check an applicant's immigration status, the complaint states.

What's more, the plaintiffs say, an immigrant's status is subject to change over time.

"As a result, state and local officials are making their own determinations about the applicants' U.S. citizenship or lawful immigration status before allowing them to renew manufactured home registration and are implementing section 30 in a manner expressly at odds with HB 56."

The plaintiffs seek class certification, compensatory damages for violations of the Fair Housing Act and the U.S. Constitution, and want the state enjoined from enforcing the law.

Their lead counsel is Mary Bauer with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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