By Karen Tumlin, managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center
Taken together, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decisions on the cases against Alabama and Georgia’s immigration laws represent a few additional nails in the anti-immigrant law coffin. Although the court decided not to block for now the damaging provisions authorizing police to demand “papers” from those they suspect of being in the country without authorization, the majority of Alabama’s law has been stopped, and one damaging provision of Georgia’s law will not be allowed to take effect.
Georgia’s law, which was challenged only by civil rights organizations, is narrower in scope than Alabama’s, but was written with the same goal in mind: to make life so miserable for immigrants and their families that they leave the state. HB 87, as Georgia’s law is known, would have created a series of state crimes to penalize those who house or drive with undocumented immigrants. From a practical perspective the impact of this law is clear: a U.S. citizen son of an undocumented mother, for example, would commit a criminal act if he were to take his mother to the grocery store to buy milk. The 11th Circuit rightly recognized that Georgia overstepped its bounds by creating a series of crimes that do nothing more than criminalize everyday neighborly acts in a domain that remains in exclusive federal territory.
Alabama’s law, HB 56, has been called “Arizona’s SB 1070 on steroids,” and for good reason. HB 56 touched upon every element of a person’s life, inserting itself into attendance at schools, business negotiations, interactions with the courts, and almost any sort of transaction with local governments. Challenges to HB 56 were swiftly brought by a coalition of civil rights organizations as well as the federal government. Unfortunately, the worst provisions of the law – including those mandating that newly enrolled students disclose their and their parents’ immigration status, nullifying contracts involving those who lack authorization to live in the United States, and criminalizing some types of interactions with state and local governments – were allowed to go into effect by the district court in 2011.
The impact of the district court’s decision in the Alabama case was immediate and devastating. A coalition of organizations, including the National Immigration Law Center, manned a legal hotline that was flooded with calls reporting discriminatory and hurtful behavior from all segments of society. Employers hid behind the law to abuse workers who lacked proper authorization, failing to pay them for weeks of labor; Latinos were harassed at schools, workplaces, and other public areas; and parents had to answer questions about their children’s citizenship status before receiving medical attention. Fortunately, the 11th Circuit temporarily blocked a few of these devastating provisions. Monday’s decision will keep these provisions on hold much longer. The court’s decision to block the provision requiring verification of parents’ immigration status for school children was particularly welcome on the day that Alabama’s kids headed back to school — ensuring that school house doors remain open to all children.
Unfortunately, the negative effects of provisions authorizing police officers to demand “papers” of those they suspect are in the country without status will have negative consequences both in Alabama, where the provision has been in effect since September 2011, and in Georgia, where the 11th Circuit has now cleared the way for the provision to take effect shortly. As a result of their state’s similar provision, Alabamians have reported that they are afraid to call the police, even when they are victims of or witnesses to crime. Police leaders also have warned that HB 56 would put officers at personal and financial risk.
We at the National Immigration Law Center have made clear that we intend to do whatever we can, both inside and outside the courtroom, to prevent these laws from violating the fundamental rights of immigrants and their families. The 11th Circuit’s decisions are another strong blow against these pernicious laws, and state legislators who have squandered state time and money to defend them. These latest decisions should weigh heavily on the minds of legislators considering following the path blazed by Arizona, and followed by Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah, and consider whether their state’s resources are best spent by joining this group in waging – and ultimately losing – legal battles. We don’t think so, but if legislators choose otherwise, there are several civil rights organizations that will see them in court.