Anti-Immigrant Law Dealt Yet Another Major Blow

Dec.12, 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]
Vesna Jaksic, ACLU (212) 284 -7347 or 549-2666; [email protected]
John Garcia, LatinoJustice (212) 739-7513; [email protected]
Stephen Dane, Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC (202) 728-1888; [email protected]

Anti-Immigrant Law Dealt Yet Another Major Blow

Federal Court Halts Discriminatory Housing Practice with Preliminary Injunction in Scathing Ruling

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction today that temporarily blocks the application of a provision of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law that threatened to push families who cannot prove lawful status out of their homes.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is the latest blow for proponents of the ill-conceived law, also known as HB 56. The ruling by the U.S. district court in Montgomery comes after a civil rights coalition filed a lawsuit last month challenging this application of Section 30 of HB 56. This application demands “papers” from everyone applying for the annual mobile home registration tags they need to reside in their mobile homes. The court found evidence that the law has racially discriminatory intent.

“This latest ruling cuts to the heart of the deficiencies of HB 56, instead of writing this law from good policy it was written from a place of hate that targets on group of people,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). “While we are incredibly pleased the court has blocked a provision that would push families out of their homes, sadly, this law is still wreaking havoc across our state, creating a humanitarian crisis. So, we will continue to fight it with everything we have.”

This provision, which criminalizes business transactions between state officials and people who cannot prove citizenship or immigration status, would have left undocumented immigrants in an impossible position: attempt to renew the mobile home tags they need and risk being charged with a felony under HB 56, or refrain from renewing tags and therefore face criminal charges and fines.

Thompson previously granted a temporary restraining order that allowed families to renew their mobile home tags.

“This decision helps put the brakes on an inhumane law that has already forced some families out of their homes,” said Justin Cox, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The court’s reasoning indicates that many applications of this law, including denying water and other essential services, are also unconstitutional.”

“Judge Thompson’s decision reaffirms that discriminatory housing practices are illegal, and that all people are protected regardless of immigration status,” said Stephen Dane, an attorney with Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC. “This ruling sends a clear warning to other states and local governments that denying housing to immigrants violates the law.”

The ruling comes as the damaging effects of HB 56 are becoming more apparent and spurring calls for revisions and even repeal. In a five-page letter released early last week, the state attorney general advised lawmakers to revise major portions and repeal other provisions. Then, late Friday, Gov. Robert Bentley and the leaders in both the Alabama house and senate released their own statement acknowledging major flaws in the law.

“This Court saw this section of HB56 for what it was: an attack on the ability of Latino and other immigrants to stay in their homes as if they are causing our economic problems,” said Foster Maer, attorney with the LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “We hope that courts across the country will carefully read this decision and come to understand that states cannot commandeer this country’s immigration laws to serve such a nefarious goal.”

After Mercedes-Benz and Honda auto executives were detained under the law, Gov. Robert Bentley has said he’s worried the law could hurt recruitment of foreign industries, prompting Bentley to reassure foreign executives they’re welcome in Alabama, according to news reports.

Despite HB 56 being touted as a “jobs bills” by its sponsors, farmers have seen their workers – regardless of immigration status – flee the state rather than live under HB 56. Crops have been left rotting in the fields.

Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan held a conference in Mobile Tuesday designed to connect farmers with workers. McMillan said at the conference that a failure to address this labor shortage will have “a substantial economic impact in Alabama,” according to the (Mobile) Press-Register.

Two larger suits bringing facial challenges to HB 56 in its entirety and several provisions in particular, are also underway. One suit is brought by the United States, and the other is brought by a coalition of immigrant rights groups and individual plaintiffs. Cross-appeals from a district court’s order denying in part and granting in part a preliminary injunction are currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. A hearing on the appeals from the lower court’s decisions to allow several provisions of the law to go into effect has been set for March 1, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.

“The mobile home case shows that the full effects of pernicious laws like HB 56 aren’t really felt until these laws are allowed to go into effect and wreak havoc on local communities,” said Linton Joaquin, general counsel of the National Immigration Law Center. “State legislators considering adopting draconian and racist laws in their states would do well to examine the high humanitarian cost of HB 56 on all Alabamians, and refrain from following in Alabama’s misguided footsteps.”

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