US District Judge Sharon Blackburn has promulgated her decision on the Alabama anti-immigration law HB 56. She has upheld major provisions of the measure that allows state law enforcement agents to question and detain without bail individuals suspected to be an undocumented immigrant. A further provision upheld requires Alabama public school authorities to verify the legal status of children going to their schools.
In response, civil rights groups and the US Justice Department have filed an emergency petition to stay implementation of the law. They have also sought an injunction to be issued by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals pending the filing of their appeal.
Mary Bauer, Legal Director of the Southern Poverty Law Center called the decision “a dark day for Alabama.” She further added, “This decision not only places Alabama on the wrong side of history but also demonstrates that the rights and freedoms so fundamental to our nation and its history can be manipulated by hate and political agendas – at least for a time.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed the law last June, hailed the decision of the court. His office has fully supported the law similar to Arizona’s SB 1070 and intends to enforce the provisions of the law.
This decision by Judge Blackburn is a departure from other federal judge decisions where most anti-immigrant provisions were blocked. This trend was observed in Georgia, Utah, Indiana and Arizona.
Not all provisions of HB 56 were upheld. Judge Blackburn disallowed provisions barring undocumented immigrants from seeking employment or enrolment in public colleges. She also disallowed the provision that makes harboring, transporting or shielding undocumented aliens as a criminal offense.
The effects of the decision have already been felt in the public school system. Around 223 Hispanic students of Foley Elementary School came to school afraid of being arrested. Nineteen students withdrew and another 39 were absent. The school has the largest percentage of Latino students comprising nearly twenty percent of the whole student population.
According to Foley Elementary Principal Bill Lawrence, the fear stems from their status. Even if they were born in the United States, many fear their parents may not be. Many are expected to leave the state over the weekend.
As required under the law, schools are required to check the citizenship papers of students enrolling after Sept. 1. Students are required to present a birth certificate and those who are unable to are given thirty days to submit any other documentation of the legality of their stay in the country. Failure to do so would force the school to enter a notation in statewide database that there was no proof of documentation provided.
The ripple effects of HB 56 have started. The tide is about to turn.