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The Alabama and Arizona Racial Profiling Laws


APRIL 2012  |  Download Adobe PDF icon

Differences Between the Alabama and Arizona
Racial Profiling Laws

On April 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Arizona v. United States, the first legal challenge to a state racial profiling law to reach the highest court in the land. A year after Arizona’s SB 1070 was enacted, Alabama passed its own law, HB 56, which is widely considered to be the most far-reaching anti-immigrant law in the country. Below are descriptions of the differences between SB 1070 and HB 56.

What does Alabama’s HB 56 have in common with Arizona’s SB 1070?

  • “Show me your papers.” Both HB 56 and SB 1070 have a provision that requires local law enforcement to verify immigration status in any lawful stop, detention, or arrest any time they have “reasonable suspicion” that someone is unlawfully present. This provision requires police officers to verify immigration status even if the encounter concerns only a violation of a municipal ordinance. For example, police officers who come to a home in response to a noise violation complaint are required to verify immigration status of those they encounter if the officers have “reasonable suspicion” that those people are unlawfully present.
  • State noncitizen registration. Both state laws have a provision that creates a state crime for failure to carry one’s immigration “papers” with him or her at all times. Many people, however, including domestic violence survivors, may have lawful status, but it can take months for them to receive the “papers” to prove it. 
  • State criminal penalty for working if you are unlawfully present. These provisions go beyond federal law by criminalizing work by unauthorized workers, instead of punishing their employers.

What is unique about the Arizona law?

  • Warrantless arrests. A provision in Arizona’s SB 1070 provides law enforcement officers with wide authority to arrest individuals based on suspected immigration status, without having to ask a judge for a warrant. It grants state and local officers more authority to make warrantless arrests than Congress has seen fit to give to federal officers.

What is unique about Alabama’s law?

  • School enrollment provision. A provision of HB 56 requires school officials to ask foreign-born children and children of foreign-born parents for their “papers” when these children enroll in public schools. The provision also requires that schools report information about children’s and their parents’ immigration status to the state and potentially to federal immigration officials.  
  • “Business transactions” provision. A provision of HB 56 makes it a felony to engage in, or attempt to engage in, “any business transaction” with the state, or with any Alabama city or county, or with any other Alabama government worker. “Business transaction” has been interpreted to include those involving water, sewage and electricity service. The sole exception is to obtain a marriage license. 
  • Contracts provision. A provision of HB 56 makes any contract unenforceable in any court if one party to the contract knew or should have known that another party was undocumented. The provision exempts contracts for lodging, meals, or that can be executed in under 24 hours.