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Alabama Immigration Law Under Fire

As an Austin immigration attorney, I maintain a constant vigil about the status of immigration laws around the country. Alabama passed one of the most sweeping anti-immigration laws in the country in the spring of 2011, but this law is currently being contested in the courts after the U.S. Department of Justice and immigrant advocacy groups brought legal action. There are many provisions in the law which pertain to illegal immigrants, but the courts have already denied enforcement of the provisions which require public schools to determine the immigration status of new students and their parents, negation of contracts with undocumented immigrants, and that immigrants must carry documentation of legal residency at all times.

This law, denoted as Alabama HB 56, was intended to make living conditions so unbearable for undocumented aliens that they would “self-deport.” The law places a burden upon police to determine the immigrant status of individuals involved in a legal stop, detention or arrest. It also prohibits landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, as well as employers from hiring them. The manufacture of false identification documents has also been criminalized under this law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has blocked provisions which deny access to post-secondary schools, criminalize the transport or harboring of illegal immigrants, criminalize the application for a job without legal status, and require the replacement of an illegal worker with a legal applicant. The U.S. Department of Justice brought suit against Alabama to block the harboring and contracts stipulations of the law. The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama and labor unions filed a lawsuit to prohibit other provisions.

The status of these injunctions is uncertain. The plaintiffs in these suits would like to move ahead to the next stage of appeals that the State of Alabama is likely to pursue, which would take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The State of Alabama, however, has voiced its unwillingness to proceed until March of 2013. If Alabama filed for an appeal in March, the Supreme Court would not hear the case until at least the October 2013 term.

Immigrant advocacy groups criticize the State of Alabama for not moving ahead in a timely fashion, further delaying justice for illegal aliens who may be subject to various portions of HB 56. If the Supreme Court takes up the case, it is likely to strike down many portions of the law based on its decision in a case involving similar laws in Arizona.

The appeals court did not block enforcement of the police checks, which has been upheld in other cases as constitutional. There was some question as to how long a suspected undocumented alien can be detained and investigated, and this issue may receive some guidance from the Supreme Court.

How the U.S. Supreme Court will decide is of keen interest to me as an immigration attorney. I recognize that the laws of the state of Alabama do not directly affect my clients in Texas, but I am concerned that legal precedents can drive changes throughout the country.

If you have questions about this issue or related ones, my office is always available to provide legal advice. For a private consultation, please contact me at (512) 215-5225.

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