The backlash against Alabama's tough new immigration law intensified on Friday as several civil rights groups sued to try and overturn legislation, calling it the most extreme in the nation. Are they correct?
The Alabama immigration law continues a wave of states passing stringent new immigration laws that began when Arizona enacted legislation that would have allowed police officers to detain anyone who appeared to be an undocumented immigrant and demand papers. It was immediately controversial, with critics warning that it legitimized racial profiling and created a climate of fear -- President Obama said it undermine[d] basic notions of fairness and Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles likened it to Nazism.
Alabama's immigration law takes all of that several steps further. In addition to empowering law enforcement officers to arrest anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, the law would make it more difficult for immigrant children to attend school by requiring schools to verify the status of both children seeking to enroll and their parents. The lawsuit contends that this is unconstitutional, citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent and the constitution's Equal Protection Clause, which stipulates that no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The law also makes it a crime for landlord to rent property to undocumented immigrants. Opponents of the Alabama immigration law argue landlords will be reluctant to provide housing to immigrants if they are fearful of legal repercussions.
We are very fearful that landlords will start to discriminate, because if there's any question about a person, the landlord will want to err on the side of not going to jail, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Sam Brooke told Salon.
The Alabama immigration also resonates deeply with the state's past by conjuring specters of the discrimination against African-Americans. Church leaders have become some of the most active forces mobilizing against the law, impelled partially by a sense that they failed to play an active role when police were brutally cracking down on black protestors.
Among the law's other provisions are a ban on transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants and a measure requiring employers to use E-Verify, a system that determines the status of new hires cross referenceing them against a database maintained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
This is of special concern to mixed status families - children could be arrested for transporting their undocumented parents, for example, the National Immigration Forum's Ali Noorani said. It can also impact churches who are 'transporting' immigrants to church or are providing any services that may be considered as 'harboring.'