ACLU and Civil Rights Coalition File Lawsuit Charging Alabama’s Racial Profiling Law is Unconstitutional

July 8, 2011 12:32 pm

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. ― The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights groups today filed a class action lawsuit charging that Alabama’s extreme anti-immigrant law is unconstitutional and endangers public safety, invites racial profiling and interferes with federal law.

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

“Alabama has brazenly enacted this law despite the fact that 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.”

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.

“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 (NILC). “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.”

Alabama is the fifth state to have enacted a law emulating Arizona’s controversial and costly SB 1070, even though the Arizona law was blocked by a federal judge. After ACLU and NILC lawsuits, federal courts have also blocked implementation of similar laws passed in Utah, Indiana and Georgia. The coalition has announced plans to legally challenge the latest Arizona-inspired law passed in South Carolina.

“Alabama’s HB 56 comes at the unacceptably high cost of sacrificing the U. S. Constitution,” said Olivia Turner, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama. “This law, if allowed to stand, will create a two-tiered system of justice in Alabama, which all Alabamians should fight against. In the nearly 50 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 lawsuit’s plaintiffs 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 and establishing the children’s lawful presence based on their American citizenship. Under this law, Mr. Webster would be criminally liable for transporting his own adopted children.

“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.”

An organizational plaintiff on the case, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, or “HICA”, is a nonprofit membership organization formed to facilitate the social, civic, and economic integration of Hispanics into Alabama as well as to help Alabamians understand the diverse Latino culture. Today, HICA provides a wide range of services, including court advocacy for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, a 24/7 Spanish hotline for immigrant victims of crime, immigration legal services, financial literacy, workforce development, volunteer income tax assistance, English and civics classes, advocacy, community education, and leadership development and training to the host community. Under this law, HICA will be at risk of criminal prosecution for providing these services to the immigrant community in Alabama.

“HB 56 is the harshest version of the SB 1070 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.”

The law has also raised concerns from faith-based organizations in the state. Another plaintiff, Scott Douglas of the Greater Birmingham Ministries, provides charitable services to Alabama communities and fears that this law criminalizes acts of charity and service so fundamental to his faith.

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

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on behalf of civil rights, social justice, labor and faith-based organizations, including the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Service Employers International Union, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Inc., Greater Birmingham Ministries and others; individually named plaintiffs who would be subject to harassment or arrest under the law; and a class of similarly situated people.

Attorneys on the case include Wang, Katherine Desormeau, Kenneth J. Sugarman, Andre Segura, Omar C. Jadwat, Lee Gelernt, Michael K. T. Tan of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and Elora Mukherjee of the ACLU Racial Justice Program; Freddy Ruibio of the ACLU of Alabama; Bauer, Sam Brooke, Andrew Turner, Michelle LaPointe, Dan Werner, and Naomi Tsu of the Southern Poverty Law Center; 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; G. Brian Spears, Ben Bruner, Herman Watson, Jr., Eric J. Artrip and Rebekah Keith McKinney.

The complaint can be found at:…

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