The ACLU was in a packed federal district court in Birmingham Wednesday arguing, with the U.S. Department of Justice and the bishops of the Episcopal, Catholic and Methodist churches, that Alabama's new anti-immigrant law, House Bill 56, should be blocked because it is unconstitutional.
The hearing, held in front of Judge Sharon Blackburn, ran well past the court's closing hours, lasting about 10 hours. Hundreds of people packed the courtroom and the overflow room. Reporters and television crews waited outside into the evening and hundreds of community members gathered to protest the country's most extreme anti-immigrant law.
Cecillia Wang, Director of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, argued in court on behalf of a civil rights coalition that filed one of the three lawsuits against Alabama.
"The hearing made it clearer than ever that H.B. 56 is unconstitutional in every way," Cecillia said after the hearing concluded.
When describing H.B. 56, Alabama Rep. Micky Hammon has said that H.B. 56 is a law modeled after Arizona's S.B. 1070, but with an "Alabama flavor," and is meant to regulate "every aspect of a person's life."
One of the ACLU's plaintiffs, John*, is among those who will be impacted by this extreme law. He is an 11th grader who came to the United States from Mexico as an orphan when he was 11. For the last year, John and his younger brother have been living with a couple who are American citizens looking to adopt the two boys. John has a 3.6 GPA and has been spending a lot of time studying for the SAT and ACT tests so he can go to college. He loves horses and would like to one day become a veterinarian. He is also a highly awarded First Lieutenant in the ROTC. Because he knows how hard it is to be an orphan, he chooses to give back and help other orphans by volunteering at a community camp for orphans from the Ukraine.
John would love to go to college near his new parents in Alabama, but is afraid that under H.B. 56, police could stop him at any moment and he could be deported to Mexico. Also troubling to John is the fact that under the law, Alabama public schools have the authority to record his undocumented status. He worries that if he gets in trouble at school, the administrators will retaliate and report him to immigration authorities.
A loyal Alabamian, John hopes to serve our country in the military and help his community. By penalizing him and others like him, we are going backwards. Instead of protecting Alabamians, H.B. 56 endangers all residents by hindering the growth of an educated, safe and productive population.
*Name has been changed to protect identity