A federal appeals court in Atlanta began hearing arguments last week about whether or not to lift the injunction currently issued against several key provisions of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law HB 56. Interestingly, the state attorneys general of nine other states, including Arizona, have filed briefs in support of Alabama and the overturning of this injunction. The HB 56 case illustrates how, when it comes to state sponsored immigration legislation, every legal challenge and every court ruling has the potential to yield ramifications that far outreach the borders of any single state.
Last year, after the state of Alabama passed HB 56, thought by many to be the strictest state anti-immigrant law in the nation, a federal appeals court ruled to put several of its provisions on hold until the law’s constitutionality could be addressed. These as yet unenforced pieces of the law include the requirement that schools determine the legal residency status of all enrollees and the criminalization of immigrants not in constant possession of an alien residency card, among several other provisions. Still, the bulk of HB 56 is already being enforced in the state.
The decision of the appeals court regarding the constitutionality of HB 56 could have an important impact not only on Alabama, but on other states like Arizona and Utah which also have similar pieces of legislation in legal limbo, as well as other states who may be on the fence about passing their own HB 56-style laws. However, the true importance of this case is somewhat eclipsed by the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case scheduled for this April, over Arizona’s appeal of the injunction currently issued against its anti-immigrant law SB 1070. The Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of this law is likely to eclipse the previous opinions of all other judges on this issue.
In the same week that an Atlanta judge has begun hearing arguments regarding the constitutionality of HB 56, the Southern Poverty Law Center has released a report detailing the extremely damaging effect this law has had on many living in Alabama. In the report, titled “Alabama’s Shame,” the SPLC reports thousands of cases of immigrants being denied pay, of U.S. citizens being harassed for looking like immigrants, of immigrants being denied access to water in their homes and countless other violations of civil liberties and human rights. The report serves as a reminder of the human impact of an issue that is too often reduced to arguments over legal minutia.
Indirectly, the SPLC report is also a reminder of just how critical the Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona’s upcoming SB 1070 appeal is to be, as should this injunction be overturned, the current humanitarian crisis facing Arizona, Alabama and several other states could easily spread across much of the nation.