Alabama “Scarlet Letter” Case Settled

October 10, 2014

Adela de la Torre, National Immigration Law Center (NILC), 213-400-7822, [email protected]
Rebecca Sturtevant, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 802-598-6445,[email protected]
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, American Civil Liberties Union, 212-549-2666, [email protected]

Civil Rights Coalition Victorious in Challenge to Alabama’s Anti-Immigrant “Scarlet Letter” Law

Agreement blocks final provisions of anti-immigrant law, HB 56, challenged in courts

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama will not publish a list of purportedly “unlawfully present” immigrants, according to an agreement announced today by civil rights groups that had sued to block publication on the grounds that it would violate individuals’ due process rights and exceed the state’s authority.

The agreement is pending final approval by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama Northern Division. If approved, it will block the final provision of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law that has been challenged in court. The law, commonly known as HB 56, has been largely eviscerated by legal challenges from the groups, which include the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama Foundation.

“This is yet another victory for Alabama’s immigrant community,” said Sam Brooke, SPLC staff attorney. “Blocking this final vestige of HB 56 is another nail in the coffin for Alabama’s misguided attempt to bully and intimidate immigrants. But even with this victory, meaningful immigration reform is still critically needed. We call on Congress to fix our nation’s broken immigration system, rather than blocking reform under the empty promise that it will be addressed ‘next year.’”

The law provided no notice to people that their name and information would be posted online. It also failed to provide any means for people to remove their names or change their information if the listing was inaccurate or if their immigration status changed – even if they became citizens.

This approach to immigration status is particularly problematic because, through the federal immigration system and immigration court, an individual’s immigration and citizenship status is fluid in nature and can change over time. The law did not accommodate this fluid nature in any way.

The agreement will require the state to institute a policy that bars the publication of any list naming people allegedly “unlawfully present” in Alabama. The agreement also requires that any immigration information collected by the state through the Administrative Office of the Courts be kept strictly confidential.

The groups filed the February 2013 lawsuit on behalf of four Latino immigrants arrested for fishing without a license – a misdemeanor offense. Under HB 56, their names, along with the names of other individuals the state deemed “unlawfully present,” would have been included on a list to be published on a public website. The provision was commonly referred to as the “Scarlet Letter” law.

“Alabama has finally recognized that shaming immigrants isn’t just morally repugnant, it’s constitutionally risky,” said Nora Preciado, staff attorney of the National Immigration Law Center. “We’re pleased the state decided to finally close this ugly chapter in its legal history.”

The law required the posting of private information that the federal government has declared confidential and not subject to public disclosure. A person’s name could be added to the list even if they were unlawfully arrested or their case was later dismissed.

“This Scarlet Letter database made a mockery of the presumption of innocence and our basic civil liberties. It was a no-brainer that this mean-spirited and unconstitutional law could not stand,” said Cecillia Wang, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

In October 2013, the coalition reached an agreement with Alabama that permanently blocked other key provisions of its anti-immigrant law. The defense of this unconstitutional law has cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars just to pay the winning plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees. The overall defense will likely cost millions of taxpayer dollars.

Attorneys on the case include Kristi L. Graunke and Samuel Brooke for the SPLC; Linton Joaquin, Karen C. Tumlin and Nora A. Preciado for the NILC; Justin B. Cox, Cecillia D. Wang, and Omar C. Jadwat for the American Civil Liberties Union; and Randall Marshall, legal director, and Freddy Rubio, cooperating attorney, for the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama Foundation.

A copy of the joint motion to dismiss is available The settlement agreement is available at

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