Appeals Court Blocks Controversial Sections of Tough Alabama Immigration Law

Marchers in the 47th annual civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery

Marchers on the road from Selma to Montgomery to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march. (Photo: Reform Immigration For America)

A federal appeals court has temporarily blocked two key sections of Alabama’s immigration law, HB 56.  Thursday’s ruling came the same week that thousands of Latinos marched with African American leaders to commemorate the bloody civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery 47 years ago.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined sections 27 and 30 of the state law until legal challenges brought by the federal government and a coalition of church and civil rights groups are resolved.

The Alabama legislature passed HB 56, a law targeting undocumented immigrants in June 2011, and it immediately gained notoriety as the toughest immigration law in the country.

In September, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn issued preliminary injunctions against some provisions of the law, including one prohibiting undocumented immigrants from attending public universities, another that outlawed harboring or transporting undocumented immigrants and a third that outlawed stopping for day laborers if a motor vehicle blocked traffic. But Judge Blackburn left intact two of the most controversial elements of the law.

That changed on Thursday. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary injunction against additional sections of HB 56 which make it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to do business with the state and bar courts from enforcing many contracts involving undocumented immigrants. That provision led to electricity, water and gas service being cut for some immigrants. In November, the non-partisan Immigration Policy Center released a report detailing the grave consequences of sections 27 and 30 of HB 56.

“These two sections were both part of the legislative scheme to make life so difficult for immigrant families that they would ‘deport themselves,'” said Cecillia Wang, Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued against the provisions. “But the 11th court recognizes that this is a serious constitutional problem,” she said, “and now the majority of the unconstitutional provisions of the law have been enjoined.”

The news ricocheted through Twitter and the immigration rights blogosphere. Dan Werner, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, who was attending the civil rights march, tweeted:

VICTORY! Fed app court halts enforcement of contracts & business sections of #hb56. Cheers erupt across the march. #selma2012#CrisisAL

Immigrant rights and opposition to HB 56 are focal points of this year’s march in Alabama.

The three-judge panel said that it won’t make a final ruling on Alabama’s immigration law until the U.S. Supreme Court addresses a federal challenge to SB 1070, Arizona’s tough immigration law. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments on April 25.  Wang said she was confident that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would permanently enjoin all the provisions of the law which the federal government is challenging, because the Supreme Court has said that states should not be in the business of enforcing federal immigration law.

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