Bitter, Sweet Ruling In Alabama

By Felicia Persaud

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri, Sept. 30, 2011: A judge appointed by Republican President George H.W. Bush has handed immigrant advocates and immigrants in Alabama a bitter, sweet victory – leaving significant portions of one of the most extreme anti-immigrant laws to date standing, but blocking others.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn wrote in her 115-page opinion on September 28th that some parts of the law enacted by the Alabama state legislature and signed into law by its governor, Robert Bentley, are in conflict with federal statutes, but others aren’t.

This despite the fact that courts in other states have rebuked similar laws, including making it a state crime to be in Alabama unlawfully or to not carry proper immigrant documentation; allowing police in Alabama to demand “papers” showing citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops and requiring them to transport drivers whose license information cannot be determined to a magistrate to determine immigration status. Those determined to be in the country unlawfully can be detained until prosecution or until they are handed over to federal authorities.

She also kept the law requiring school officials to verify the immigration status of children and their parents in place.

Similar, less-restrictive laws have been passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia, and federal judges have blocked all or parts of those. But Judge Blackburn said federal law doesn’t prohibit checking students or suspects pulled over by police.

She also allowed the provisions that allow police to hold suspected illegal immigrants without bond; makes it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to do business with the state; and makes it a misdemeanor for an undocumented resident not to have immigration papers to stand.

Blackburn’s order, however, temporarily blocked measures that would make it a crime for an illegal immigrant to solicit work; makes it a crime to transport or harbor an illegal immigrant; allows discrimination lawsuits against companies that dismiss legal workers while hiring illegal immigrants and forbids businesses from taking tax deductions for wages paid to workers who are in the country illegally.

Andre Segura, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, insists that “laws that require police to demand ‘papers’ from people who they suspect appear undocumented encourage racial profiling, threaten public safety, undermine American values and have no place in our society.”
Linton Joaquin, general counsel for the National Im¬migration Law Center, which represented plaintiffs seek¬ing to block the suit, said they would appeal the judge’s decision.

“Overall, we’re very disap¬pointed,” he said. “We think this is a flawed ruling.”

The Justice Department had contended the state law encroaches on the federal government’s duty to enforce immigration law but did not argue the civil rights violations or racial profiling statutes. However, the ACLU and other opponents argued it violated basic rights to free speech and travel.
The Department of Justice has now said in a statement that it is considering its next steps.

Alabama Republicans have long sought to clamp down on illegal immigration and passed the law after gaining control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. GOP Gov. Bentley signed the law, known as HB56, on June 9. At a news conference on September 28th, Bent¬ley said he intended to en¬force what he called “the strongest immigration law in our country.”

The time is now for advocates and immigrants to stand up and fight for the voiceless and powerless in Alabama push for a ban on doing business of any kind with this state, whose ugly Jim Crow past has now been resurrected in 2011 in this anti-immigrant law.

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.