Arizona’s immigration law — SB-1070 — is no longer the toughest immigration law in America. Today, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed a bill into law that goes several steps farther. “I campaigned for the toughest immigration laws and I’m proud of the Legislature for working tirelessly to create the strongest immigration bill in the country,” boasted Bentley.
Like the bill that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed into law last year, Alabama’s immigration measure requires local law enforcement to ask about immigration status when police have “reasonable suspicion” that the person they have stopped for some other violation is also an undocumented immigrant. Similarly, the law allows police to detain suspected undocumented immigrants and makes it a crime to employ or transport them. In its lawsuit against the state of Arizona, the Department of Justice claims that these provisions are preempted and conflict with federal priorities. These parts of SB-1070 have been enjoined by two separate courts on the basis that they are unconstitutional.
The courts will likely find even more issues with the law Alabama just passed. Under this law, Alabama schools will now have to collect student citizenship information. The lawyers behind this type of legislation have already made clear that their goal is to “take on” Plyler v. Doe, a Supreme Court decision which struck down a state statute denying education funding to undocumented children.
In the majority opinion, Justice William Brennan wrote that the “denial of education to some isolated group of children poses an affront to one of the goals of the Equal Protection Clause: the abolition of governmental barriers presenting unreasonable obstacles to advancement on the basis of individual merit.” The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has already made clear that “student enrollment practices that may chill or discourage” school enrollment based on immigration status is a violation of federal law.
Many Alabama school officials are worried that the new law will do just that. “Once you start asking that question, you get to the point where you’re tacitly trying to deny access to school,” explained an attendance coordinator for Elmore County Public Schools. Even in Arizona, an attempt to institute this policy failed miserably.
Alabama’s law also requires state employers to use the controversial electronic employment verification system, E-Verify, and will revoke the businesses licenses of those who fail to comply. This is probably one of the only parts of Alabama’s measure that will remain intact. That is because Arizona passed a separate piece of legislation with a similar mandate a couple of years ago, and last week the Supreme Court ruled in its favor, upholding a decision made by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Yet people shouldn’t read too much into that. The same appeals court also imposed a preliminary injunction on parts of SB-1070 on the basis that it “interferes with the federal government’s authority to implement its priorities and strategies in law enforcement” is likely preempted by federal law and foreign policy.
In addition, Alabama has made it illegal for landlords to “knowingly” rent housing to undocumented immigrants. The Third US Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a similar law from going into effect in Hazleton, Pennsylvania on the basis of federal preemption. The Supreme Court recently vacated the decision, but that likely has more to do with the Hazleton law’s E-Verify provisions which mirror the Arizona law that the Court recently reviewed.