Federal judge blocks portion of HB 56

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A federal judge in Montgomery Monday blocked a provision of Alabama’s immigration law forbidding local agencies from doing business with undocumented aliens, and said the entire law was likely “discriminatorily based.”

U.S. District Court Judge Myron Thompson found that a lawsuit challenging Section 30 of the law — which forbids state and local agencies from engaging in “business transactions” with undocumented aliens — was likely to succeed on its merits, and issued a preliminary injunction against the provision Monday afternoon.

The injunction came out of a lawsuit brought by two Mexican nationals currently residing in Elmore County.  The men, who live in manufactured homes, sued the Department of Revenue and the Elmore County Probate Judge’s office last month, saying the documentation requirement made it impossible for them to register their homes and would drive them and their children, who are U.S. citizens, out of the state.

Thompson wrote that the provision put undocumented aliens “between a rock and a hard place.”

“They face civil and criminal liability for not paying their manufactured home tax, while simultaneously facing civil and criminal liability if they attempt to remove their homes from the State,” he wrote.  “They can neither stay, nor can they go.”

The judge went on to rule that the statute, which he wrote would have adversely affected the children of the plaintiffs, departed from an established tradition in Alabama of assisting children regardless of their parents’ actions.

“Moreover, that HB 56’s treatment of children in mixed status families, who are overwhelmingly Latino, is so markedly different from the State’s historical treatment of children in general suggests strongly that the difference in treatment was driven by animus against Latinos in general and thus that the statute was discriminatorily based,” Thompson wrote.

The judge also quoted several supporters of the law — including Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, and Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville — as using the terms “illegal immigrant” and “Hispanic” interchangeably.  Thompson also quoted Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham saying he saw 30 “illegals” getting out of a car “in Hoover or Homewood.”

Hammon, the sponsor of HB 56, and Rich both voted for the bill; Rogers voted against it, saying he wanted to see “punishment” for those employed undocumented aliens.

The judge wrote the court could not “conclusively” say “discriminatory bias against Hispanics was behind HB 56,” but said the “evidence of such” was substantial enough to put the law on hold.

The judge late last month issued a restraining order blocking officials from asking for documents for manufactured home registrations.  Attorney General Luther Strange sent a letter on the subject on Dec. 2, telling officials that they could not verify status without enrolling in the federal SAVE program or contacting Immigration and Naturalization Services — a guidance that effectively blocked the section, as few local agencies are connected to those services.

Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs, called the ruling “a nail in the coffin” of HB 56.

“While we are incredibly pleased the court has blocked a provision that would push families out of their homes, sadly, this law is still wreaking havoc across our state, creating a humanitarian crisis,” Bauer said in a statement. ” So, we will continue to fight it with everything we have.”

Suzanne Webb, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Attorney General’s office, which represented the defendants in the case, said they had no comment on the ruling.

The suit is separate from actions brought against the law by the U.S. Department of Justice and a coalition of individuals of civil rights groups.  Ruling on those suits last September, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Blackburn upheld the provision, finding the definition of “business transactions” in the law did not include payment of property taxes.

Thompson, who acknowledged Blackburn’s decision in his 108-page ruling, said the plaintiffs’ inability to register their homes showed the application of the law was making that impossible.

– posted by Brian Lyman (updated at 5:59 p.m.)

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