Local officials say immigration act settlement ends "unenforceable" law
by Brian Anderson
Oct 30, 2013 | 3474 views |  0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A court settlement Tuesday effectively killed Alabama’s illegal-immigration act, formalizing the end of what local officials say was a largely unenforceable law.

An agreement filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday said the state cannot enforce a part of the act allowing law enforcement to stop people suspected of being illegal immigrants. The “show me your papers” provision was one of the last remaining challenges to the law that already had large portions ruled unconstitutional in federal courts.

When passed in 2011, House Bill 56, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, was praised and criticized for being the toughest legislation in the country on illegal immigrants.

While Tuesday’s settlement is a big win for groups who opposed the act, the agreement will have little to no impact at a local level, said Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh. Most of the provisions under the act were challenged immediately, and ruled unconstitutional in lower courts. Tuesday’s agreement will permanently block those provisions.

Generally, McVeigh said, law enforcement agencies proceeded with caution regarding the act as more provisions were successfully challenged. Tuesday’s settlement, in other words, changes nothing.

“We will continue not to enforce rules that were already deemed unenforceable,” McVeigh said.

Kristi Graunke, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Tuesday’s agreement doesn’t completely eliminate the “show me your papers” provision from the law, but specifically makes clear that law enforcement officers cannot detain someone for the purpose of checking immigration status.

“We’ll obviously be monitoring that closely to make sure people’s constitutional rights are not infringed upon,” Graunke said.

Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge and Anniston police Chief Shane Denham said neither police department had arrested or detained anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant under the act.

“No, we never dealt with that, thank God,” Partridge said.

But that wasn’t the case across the state, according to Graunke, who said a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center after the act was signed into law in 2011 and before major provisions were challenged in court, revealed hardships for many immigrants living in Alabama because of the bill.

“There were instances of parents terrified to send their children to school because they thought their immigration status would be checked,” Graunke said. “There were cases of people who couldn’t get their utilities on because entering into any kind of business transaction was illegal.”

Besides the “show me your papers” provision, federal judges previously had struck parts of the law that required immigrants to carry documentation, banned illegal immigrants from seeking work and required schools to check the immigration status of registered students.

Joe Dyar, superintendent of Calhoun County Schools, said that last provision of the law, from the beginning, was unenforceable, and put burdens on school districts to act as immigration police.

“That’s not who we are,” Dyar said. “We can’t check the status of someone and see if they have a green card.”

Dyar said Calhoun County Schools did not change its registration practices because of the act. That was in part, he said, because school district leaders knew the provision wouldn’t hold up.

“That part of the law was unfair,” Dyar said. “This settlement just confirms what we already knew. You can’t target people regarding their legality or background.”

Eric Mackey, executive director of School Superintendents of Alabama, said he felt confident no school districts in the state ever complied with the provision.

“It appeared to be in conflict with federal law,” Mackey said. “It was asking schools to collect data we don’t collect.”

Mackey said Tuesday’s settlement likely wasn’t even on most schools’ radars.

“It’s been a while since I read the act,” Mackey said. “Once we figured out it didn’t really involve schools we didn’t spend a lot of time with it.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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