Sarah Ford | October 31, 2013

Sweeter Home, Alabama?

By Cecillia Wang, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project 

Immigrant families in Alabama can finally breathe more freely thanks to a settlement reached Tuesday with Alabama over its draconian HB 56 anti-immigrant law, enacted in 2011. The settlement that we and our co-counsel reached permanently blocks key provisions of the law and significantly limits racial profiling resulting from its “show me your papers” provisions. The settlement is contingent on court approval.

HB 56 was the worst of the five anti-immigrant copycat laws that followed Arizona’s SB 1070. It fomented anti-immigrant hostility, divided communities, and put immigrant families in Alabama in great danger. Over the course of the litigation, as IRP argued in district court and the Eleventh Circuit, we blocked many of the key provisions from going into effect. This week, the parties to the lawsuit joined together in filing a proposed settlement with the district court.

If approved, this settlement will permanently enjoin and strike down provisions that would have: chilled children’s access to public schools; criminalized everyday interactions with undocumented individuals as “harboring”; criminalized day laborers’ ability to solicit work in public places; criminalized immigrants’ failure to carry “papers”; criminalized working without authorization; and voided contracts when a party is an undocumented immigrant.

The settlement also contains the State of Alabama’s acknowledgment that the “show me your papers” provision does not authorize state and local officers to detain people based on suspected immigration violations. With this formal statement by the state Attorney General, Alabama has backed down from a key aspect of its anti-immigrant law. This is a significant victory, since many police departments have been interpreting the provision to allow precisely that. We will continue to monitor compliance closely and will act swiftly if any law enforcement agency in Alabama violates people’s civil rights.

A similar settlement has been reached in a parallel suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.Pending a review by the court, our coalition partners (including MALDEF, NILC, SPLC and the ACLU of Alabama) will likely be awarded $350,000 in legal fees and costs to defray our litigation costs. This is a significant penalty, but one that pales compared with the harms that the Alabama legislature imposed on the people of Alabama with this divisive law.

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