Alabama & the Supreme Court’s SB 1070 Decision

July 2, 2012

Civil Rights Groups: Alabama Must Follow Supreme Court Ruling on Arizona Anti-Immigrant Law and Collect Vital Data

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are demanding that Alabama’s attorney general ensure the state adheres to last week’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. With Alabama the only state that has implemented a controversial provision upheld for now, the groups also called on Attorney General Strange to immediately begin collecting data on stops and arrests.

The demands were made in a letter the groups sent to Strange this morning. The letter also demands that Strange issue guidance on enforcement of the law, also known as HB 56, in a manner that conforms to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week in Arizona v .United States.

The letter urged the attorney general to clearly explain how his office will ensure that Alabama law enforcement officers will neither engage in racial profiling to enforce these provisions, nor engage in unlawful detention to determine individuals’ immigration status.

“Alabama is now ground zero in this fight against these racist laws,” said Mary Bauer, legal director at the SPLC. “We have already seen evidence that the Alabama law is being enforced in ways that violate the Supreme Court’s ruling. That’s why it is essential that Alabama Attorney General Strange provide clear guidance to law enforcement as to what is and is not permissible.  It is also critical that law enforcement begin collecting this vital data.”

While the Supreme Court ruled much of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, is unconstitutional, the one provision not blocked by the court was the racial profiling provision, which mandates that police demand “papers” of those they suspect are in the country without authorization.

Despite upholding this provision for now, the court did express significant concern over whether when actually implemented, it would prove to be unconstitutional as well. Unlike other states that have passed anti-immigrant laws, Alabama is the only state that has implemented the “papers please” provision.

“State and local government officials in Alabama are on notice: They cannot detain people based on a suspicion about immigration status,” said Cecillia Wang, director of ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “And it is as clear as ever that racial profiling is wrong and illegal. The state attorney general must take swift action to ensure that officers act within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution. If he does not, we will take swift action to defend the basic civil rights of Alabamians.”

In upholding this section, justices expressed concerns that in its implementation, this provision might also prove to be unconstitutional. Anecdotal evidence suggests Alabama’s implementation of the anti-immigrant law has created racial profiling. Collecting data going forward is integral to demonstrate whether the court’s fears are correct.

“The experience in Alabama demonstrates that laws like HB 56 and SB 1070 cannot be implemented in a race-neutral manner,” said Karen Tumlin, mangaging attorney for the National Immigration Law Center. “Ultimately, we believe these laws will not withstand constitutional scrutiny; until then, Attorney General Strange should do everything in his power to prevent additional civil rights abuses.”

The letter noted the following examples of abuse reported to the coalition:

  • In October 2011, an immigrant woman called the police after she was hit by her ex-husband. The police arrived on the scene and arrested the woman, who was unable to show her immigration papers.
  • In November 2011, a family was pulled over by police near Decatur, Ala. Despite the fact that the father (the vehicle’s driver) was a lawful permanent resident and the children were U.S. citizens, the entire family was arrested because the wife/mother was not carrying her immigration documents with her. They were detained for approximately five hours.
  • In February 2012, two Latino men conversing at a gas station in northeastern Alabama were approached by two local police officers. The officers demanded that the men produce “green cards.” When the men could not do so, the officers arrested the men and held them for several days. Neither man was ever charged with a crime.

The coalition will continue to monitor the enforcement of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law for inconsistencies with the Arizona ruling as it awaits a response from the attorney general.

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