11th Circuit Court of Appeals Blocks More of Alabama’s Enforcement Law | CLINIC

11th Circuit Court of Appeals Blocks More of Alabama’s Enforcement Law

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On March 8, 2012, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily blocked two more sections of Alabama’s harsh immigration enforcement law, HB 56. 

One section that was blocked prevented unlawfully present individuals from accessing state courts in order to enforce contracts, essentially denying the legal personhood of unlawfully present individuals.  The other blocked provision prevented unlawfully present individuals – and anyone acting on their behalf – from engaging in (or attempting to engage in) any “business transaction” with the state except if they wish to apply for a state-issued marriage license. In fact, this section makes it a felony to do so. The bill defines a “business transaction” as “any transaction” with the state and explicitly includes interactions that have no business relation at all, like applying for non-driver identification cards. 

These sections have been responsible for some of the most wide-reaching negative effects of any part of HB 56.  Several state actors throughout Alabama have misinterpreted the confusing legal language of these sections to permit egregious violations of everyone’s civil rights. Individuals have been asked to show proof of citizenship and lawful presence as a condition of receiving marriage licenses (which are expressly permitted by the law) as well as basic utilities like water service.  The Allgood Alabama Water Works company recently placed this sign on a housing complex: “Attention to all water customers: To be compliant with new laws concerning immigration you must have an Alabama driver's license… or you may lose water service.”  Even legal services were endangered.  One probate judge expected attorneys to personally vouch for the "citizenship status" of their clients.  The broad requirements of this section also threatened to impede adoptions and to hinder the ability to get simple documents notarized.


As a result of the confusion, Alabama state judges and state administrators already have been sued for misinterpreting the language of this section.  Lawsuits were brought, for example, against probate judges who denied access to marriage licenses and against state revenue agents for blocking the only path that unlawfully present persons had to avoid criminal penalties for failing to register their mobile homes. 

The 11th Circuit will decide the constitutionality of other parts of HB 56 – including a provision requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone lawfully stopped when the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that s/he is unlawfully present – after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070.  Oral arguments in the Arizona case are scheduled for April 25, 2012.

For more information, contact CLINIC’s State and Local Advocacy Attorney, Karen Siciliano Lucas at klucas@cliniclegal.org.