Proposed illegal immigration law could lead to lawsuits, Hispanic coalition says

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama is mobilizing supporters to fight against state lawmakers’ crackdown on illegal immigration.

The state House of Representatives on April 5 approved a bill that would allow any law enforcement, state, county, city, town or “other political subdivision” officer to verify the immigration status of a person who is stopped, detained or arrested “where reasonable suspicion exists that a person is an unauthorized alien.”

House Bill 56, sponsored by 25 representatives, including local Reps. Greg Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, and Jim McClendon, R-Springfield, passed with a 73-28 vote and is now in the hands of the Senate.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, “there will most definitely be court challenges,” HICA’s organizing and education coordinator, Caitlin Sandley, said April 6.

“If it should pass, I know the Southern Poverty Law Center has promised and is ready and willing to challenge this in court,” Sandley added. “I’m not sure if the ACLU of Alabama has officially come out and said that also, but I know SPLC has.”

The federal government could also sue the state over an illegal immigration law, Sandley said, citing Arizona as an example.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said he supports the legislation, which the Senate will likely vote on within about a week.

“I’m sure you’re going to have some people who are opposed to this legislation file a lawsuit,” Ward said. “I think we want to make sure the bill is in such condition that once it passes and gets signed by the governor that it’s able to withstand the scrutiny of the lawsuit.”

Ward said there is a “strong sentiment” to pass a “strong anti-illegal immigration” legislation in the Senate.

State lawmakers had to step in and address the issue because the federal government “has really dropped the ball” in dealing with illegal immigration, Ward said

“Increasingly more and more states are having to take this matter into their own hands due to the fact that the federal government hasn’t spent any time at all on dealing with this issue,” Ward added.

The proposed law is “intended to discourage and deter the entry, presence and involvement in economic activity of unauthorized aliens in Alabama, consistent with the intent of Congress expressed in federal immigration law,” the House bill read.

For now, HICA is encouraging those opposed to the bill to call their senator and voice concern.

“We’re currently doing everything we can to mobilize folks,” Sandley said. “Everybody I speak to everyday, not just immigrants, have huge concerns with it. We’re encouraging people to really use their voice.”

HICA’s biggest concern is the expense of implementing the legislation, Sandley said.

“The costs on local law enforcement and municipalities will be huge,” she said.

As a social services agency, Sandley said HICA is also concerned with effects the legislation would have on “the crucial relationship” between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.

“All of our safety depends on everyone – all victims – feeling comfortable coming forward and reporting crime and cooperating in investigations,” Sandley said. “Legislation like this really undermines any efforts to build relationships and trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.”