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Civil rights groups file lawsuit challenging Alabama immigration law

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Immigration Law Center announced Friday at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., they have filed a lawsuit challenging the new Alabama immigration law.

Karen Tumlin, the managing attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, told The American Independent that HB 56, the Alabama immigration law, “hearkens back to the days of Jim Crow” in that it attempts to restrict the rights of individuals to form contracts, protect themselves from unreasonable searches and have access to justice and equal protection under the law.

The Alabama law is by far the most stringent immigration enforcement measure passed by a state government. Like laws passed in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and other states, the Alabama law requires that police check the immigration status of anyone detained for a traffic violation or greater infraction, so long as they have “reasonable suspicion” that the violator is undocumented. Unlike those laws, Alabama includes measures that criminalize renting housing to immigrants — meaning landlords that rent to the undocumented could face up to 20 years in jail — and also invalidates any existing contracts that undocumented immigrants are a party to. The state also banned undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges, and requires public schools to count the number of undocumented children that attend them.

As befits the unprecedented nature of the law, the lawsuit filed by the civil rights groups was equally broad in its list of challenges. The groups are challenging the law on the basis that it preempts the federal government’s exclusive power to regulate immigration, which has been the basis of all other court challenges to state-level immigration enforcement laws. But it also includes a Fourth Amendment challenge on the basis that the law would subject people to unreasonable search and seizures, a due process challenge, a First Amendment challenge on the basis that the law would restrict people’s access to the courts and a challenge to the law’s schooling measures, which Tumlin says, “fly in the face of thirty years of Supreme Court precedent saying schools cannot deny or chill access to a public education.”

Starting with Arizona’s SB 1070, which was passed last year, each of the state-level immigration enforcement laws have been blocked by judges in anticipation of a permanent resolution in court on the question of whether states should be allowed to enact their own immigration policies. But Tumlin points to the decision blocking Indiana’s law, where the judge who issued the injunction also said she believed the law probably violated due process and Fourth Amendment rights. Tumlin calls the degree to which the law violates constitutional rights “fairly stunning.”

The law is already having an effect on the immigrant population of Alabama, with anecdotal reports of Hispanics fleeing the state, indicating a lack of interest in sticking around to see whether the law will be overturned by the courts.

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