Key Portion of Alabama Immigration Law Upheld

Last Updated: September 28, 2011

This article appeared in the September 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Although several states have recently enacted far-reaching laws designed to stop or slow down illegal immigration into the country, Alabama’s H.B. 56 is touted as the “strongest in the country.”

Notable in Alabama’s law is the requirement on schools to report on the number of students who did not produce a United States birth certificate or other acceptable proof that they are in the country legally. As in other southern states, a high percentage of Latino immigrants live and attend school in rural communities.

Legislators who supported the bill claimed the provision was intended, not to dissuade children with questionable immigration status from attending school, but to determine how much the state was spending to educate them.

A number of advocacy organizations, nonprofits, and others, including the United States Department of Justice, challenged the law, which was scheduled to go into effect on September 1st, as unconstitutional.

Challengers maintained that H.B. 56 conflicts with a legal doctrine known as preemption, which reserves some regulations exclusively for the federal government and that it violates the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the laws.

Challengers also argued that H.B. 56 contradicts previous federal court rulings that prohibit barriers to any child enrolling in school. Typically, schools cannot adopt policies or act in ways that restrict K-12 students’ access to education based on real or perceived immigration status.

One of the complaints characterized the law as “pervasive and systemic targeting of a class of citizens through punitive state laws that seek to render every aspect of daily life more difficult and less equal.” The complaint stated that the law would “deter Alabamian children in immigrant families…from enrolling in public primary and secondary education.”

Federal Judge Sharon Blackburn temporarily stopped implementation of the law, saying that she needed until the end of the month to study all the lawsuits filed against HB56.

Earlier this week, Blackburn released her ruling, which let stand key provisions of the law. Some of those provisions include:

  • a requirement that schoolsdocument and report the immigration status of students;
  • authorization for police to conduct immigration checks during routine traffic stops;
  • a ban on enforcing contracts with illigal immigrants.

Blackburn's ruling did block several provisions, including: 

  • criminal penalties for anyone who knowingly or unknowingly harbored, transported, encouraged, or rented to an illegal immigrant;
  • ban on illegal immigrants from enrolling in Alabama colleges;
  • provision to take away tax benefits for employers who pay salaries to illegal immigrants. 

Blackburn's ruling specifically disagreed wtih a prior federal court ruling that immigration law enforcement was the unique responsibility of the federal government. That ruling was used to block implementation of portions of Arizona's immigration law.

Groups suing the state to block the law included the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, Alabama Appleseed, the Service Employees International Union, National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU, and Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, Inc. Anti-immigrant legislation has been filed in more than 30 states during 2010 and 2011.

Read more:

State and national coverage:

Opinion piece on the anti-immigration bills:

Read the complaint here:

Read more from the September 2011 Rural Policy Matters.