Call to End Discriminatory Housing Practice

November 18, 2011

Adela de la Torre, National Immigration Law Center (NILC) (213) 674-2832; [email protected]
Apreill Hartsfield, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), (334) 956-8458; [email protected]
Steve Gosset, ACLU (212) 519-7811 or 549-2666; [email protected]
John Garcia, LatinoJustice (212) 739-7513; [email protected]
Stephen Dane, Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC (202) 728-1888; [email protected]

HB 56 Provision Threatens to Leave Alabama Families Homeless

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A coalition of civil rights organizations today filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging a provision under Alabama’s harsh anti-immigrant law that threatens to push people out of their homes. A hearing on whether to block the practice temporarily will be held this afternoon.

As applied, Section 30 requires persons to prove their lawful status before they can renew their mobile home tags. This section of HB 56 prohibits “business transactions” between the state and persons who cannot produce paperwork proving their citizenship or immigration status.

“This application of Alabama’s draconian anti-immigrant law threatens to throw families into the street,” said Mary Bauer, the legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). “It’s a flagrant violation of the Fair Housing Act and the United States Constitution.”

Co-counseling the case with the SPLC are the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU, LatinoJustice and the civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC.

“Section 30 turns state and municipal workers into de facto immigration agents, demanding ‘papers’ before they allow people to continue to live in their homes,” said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center. “HB 56, is often dubbed ‘Juan Crow’ by advocates, and for good reason: the law has drawn a bright line between those it thinks belong in Alabama and those it wishes to drive from the state.”

Mobile home decal fees are considered delinquent if not paid by Nov. 30. Failure to pay on time results in fines and is considered a misdemeanor. In addition, individuals who attempt to renew their decals but are unable to prove their immigration status could be charged with a felony under the state’s anti-immigrant law because they would be considered an undocumented immigrant attempting to engage in a “business transaction” with the state.

This provision and its application to the mobile home registration requirements puts immigrant families – regardless of their immigration status – in an impossible position. Mobile home owners who are unable to obtain a decal cannot move their homes to a new location because it is illegal to transport a mobile home on public roads without a moving permit, which also requires a “business transaction” with the state where immigration status would be checked.

“Once again, Alabama’s anti-immigrant, anti-Latino law requires us to resort to the courts to force the state to respect the most basic of civil rights. Alabama should cut its losses now and repeal this hateful law,” said Justin Cox, a lawyer with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two undocumented Latino immigrants in Elmore County who cannot renew their decals under the law because they would be guilty of engaging in a “business transaction” with the state – a felony under the state’s anti-immigrant law, HB 56. But these two men also risk being charged with a misdemeanor if they do not purchase the decals in addition to fines for failing to register their mobile home by the statewide deadline. This situation places the men and their families in danger of being forced from their homes. The men are identified as John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 in the lawsuit.

“The passage of HB56 is having a devastating, disparate impact on Latino families in Alabama, including being deprived of the ability to live in mobile homes, a key source of housing for low- income families,” said Foster Maer, attorney with the LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “Latinos should not face a choice between complying with HB56 or becoming homeless. We are confident that the court, upon reviewing this challenge being filed today, will act to ensure that thousands of Latinos are not made homeless by the implementation of this misguided law.”

Three organizations that provide fair housing services throughout the state are also named as plaintiffs: the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center, the Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama and the Center for Fair Housing, Inc.

The lawsuit names Alabama Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee as a defendant. Magee’s department considers the decal purchases a “business transaction” with the state and subject to HB 56. It also names Elmore County Revenue Commissioner William Harper, the local official charged with collecting the fees in the home county of the plaintiffs. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Northern Division.

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