Alabama speaker: Immigration law could be overturned, but ‘we’re just getting started’

Alabama state capitol
Alabama's state capitol (photo via flickr/jimbowen0306)

The Huntsville Times reports on a speech made on Saturday by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), in which the co-sponsor of the state’s new immigration law admitted the high likelihood that parts of the law will be overturned by federal courts:

“I make no apologies for what we passed,” said Hubbard … “I’m proud of what we passed. We did it for the right reasons. We have more bills like that coming. We’re just getting started.”

As Hubbard touted the accomplishments of the Republican-controlled Legislature in the session earlier this year – a centerpiece of which was the immigration bill signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley – he acknowledged that the immigration law may not survive legal scrutiny in its current form.

“Some parts of that law may be struck down,” Hubbard said. “I hope not, but it may be. We knew going in we would probably have to come in and tweak it.

Hubbard’s comments betray a willingness on the part of the Alabama Republican Party, which controls the Legislature and the governor’s mansion, to accept the high costs of a lawsuit defending the ambitious immigration enforcement law. Federal courts have placed injunctions on four other state immigration laws, including the original “papers, please” law in Arizona. That case, Arizona v. United States, has cost the state of Arizona $1.9 million in legal fees since the law was passed and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer last year. Brewer has petitioned the Supreme Court to lift the injunction.

The Alabama immigration law, HB 56, has been called the most extensive of any such laws passed in the past few years because it touches on so many aspects of human life, including housing, contracts, schooling and driving. In fact, the law’s very existence may have a deleterious effect on Alabama’s immigrant population, even though it has yet to come into effect and will most likely have some of its provisions blocked in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona v. United States. As the Birmingham News reports, there are increasing signs that the passage of HB 56 is already causing some of the state’s agricultural workforce and Hispanic population to leave Alabama. That may well have been the intent of the law’s proponents even while they recognized that the law would be blocked by the courts.

But, as Hubbard referred to, there are still immigration reform ideas proposed by Alabama legislators which were not incorporated into the final, 72-page law. Two of the immigration-related bills proposed in the 2011 regular session of the Alabama Legislature which were not incorporated into HB 56 are HB 158 (PDF), a bill requiring that the federal program E-Verify be used to electronically verify the immigration status of anyone applying for a business license in Alabama, and HB 203 (PDF), a bill requiring parents or guardians to provide proof of citizenship for any child enrolled in school or being tutored at home.

The latter proposal, if it had been made a part of HB 56, would have been a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1982 decision Plyler v. Doe, which has made legislation denying any child a public education unconstitutional. The complaint filed by the ACLU and other civil rights groups against the Alabama law alleges that HB 56 already violates Plyler by requiring schools to collect information on their students’ legal status, which the plaintiffs say would have a “chilling effect” on parents’ willingness to enroll their child in an Alabama school.

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