By Sue Weishar, Ph.D.
In the July JustSouth E-news we reported on Alabama’s new harsh anti-immigrant law, HB 56, and the Church’s response to that law. Today we provide an update on HB 56.
On June 9, HB 56—called “the nation’s most merciless anti-immigrant legislation” by Alabama’s bishops—was signed into law by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. On September 28, a federal district judge ruled to stop the sections of the law that criminalized working in Alabama without work authorization or renting to or transporting undocumented immigrants. However, U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn’s decision allowed several key provisions of the law to go into effect, including the requirement that public schools determine the immigration status of enrolling students and their parents and a section of the law that criminalized failure to carry immigration documentation at all times.
Those two sections of HB 56 were temporarily blocked by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on October 13. The Circuit Court, however, let stand the following provisions of the law:
- Alabama police must determine the immigration status of anyone they stop if “reasonable suspicion” exists the person is undocumented—which raises serious concerns about racial profiling;
- Alabama courts cannot enforce contracts with undocumented immigrants, thus virtually invalidating undocumented immigrants’ apartment leases and work contracts; and
- it is a felony for undocumented immigrants to conduct a business transaction with any governmental body in the state, such as renewing a driver’s license or even obtaining water and sewage services.
Unlike other states such as Arizona, Georgia, and Utah that passed harsh anti-immigrant legislation in the past year, key provisions of Alabama’s law were allowed to stand for weeks, creating a humanitarian and economic crisis in the state. Farmers report that fruit and vegetable crops are rotting in the field due to a lack of workers, and thousands of school children were withdrawn from school by parents terrified by the law.
The way that HB 56 plays politics with children’s lives is perhaps the cruelest aspect of this law. On a phone conference with the media on October 7, Alabama advocates reported that immigrant children were being subjected to horrific treatment in schools, from harsh interrogation by teachers to bullying by other students. One advocate wondered aloud if requiring immigrant children to wear yellow stars was next. Southern Poverty Law Center Attorney and Alabamian Mary Bauer stated, “This law robs children of their most fundamental rights and their future… Life as we know it has ended in Alabama.”
In a brave show of resistance and solidarity, immigrants in Alabama organized a work boycott on Wednesday, October 12, that caused several chicken processing plants to stop operations for the day. Teach-ins and protests by church and advocacy groups continue. Fr. Jack Kane, the director for Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile, noted during the October 7th phone conference that there has been “incredible leadership on the front lines” in Alabama in opposition to the law.
Clearly immigrant justice advocates must learn from what has taken place in Alabama and organize to prevent laws like HB 56 from ever being enacted in their respective states. On January 11 — 13, 2012, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring a conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, that will examine state and local immigration initiatives across the country to develop strategies and methods to oppose enforcement initiatives and support comprehensive immigration reform. For more information on the conference contact Antonio Cube at email@example.com.