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Immigration law faces new challenge

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Posted: Monday, November 28, 2011 3:52 pm | Updated: 11:16 am, Fri Aug 3, 2012.

Portions of Alabama's controversial immigration legislation were found to not meet legal muster once again when a federal judge last week halted additional portions of the law.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in a hearing Nov. 23 issued a temporary injunction on portions of the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Scott Beason and state Rep. Micky Hammon, that would prevent undocumented immigrants from obtaining home registrations on their manufactured mobile homes.

Thompson's order permits homeowners to renew mobile home permits by the Nov. 30 deadline without being required to provide documentation proving their immigration status.

Prior to the injunction illegal immigrants had the option of attempting to register their homes, as required by state law, and risk the possibility of a misdemeanor charge. They could also violate state law and not renew licenses and face the possibility of losing the right to occupy or move their homes, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Mobile home permits and fees are due Oct. 1 annually, but are considered delinquent if not filed and paid by Nov. 30.

The court-issued injunction came after the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center in conjunction with numerous civil rights organizations filed suit Nov. 18 against the Alabama Revenue Commissioner and Elmore County Probate Judge Jimmy Stubbs. It was argued that a provision of the law prevents illegal immigrants from entering into business transactions with the state, a violation of federal fair housing laws.

Thompson wrote in his order the Central Alabama Fair Housing Center "quite convincingly" met its burden of proof that the provision of the law that forbids illegal immigrants from entering into contracts with the state, as applied to Alabama's manufactured home statute, conflicts with federal law.

"When a state law conflicts with a federal statute, the state law is necessarily preempted," Thompson wrote.

The restraining order bars the Alabama Department of Revenue and "all those acting in concert with them" from "requiring any person who attempts to pay the annual registration fee...to prove his or her U.S. citizenship or lawful immigration status."

Though the order may force licensing changes in revenue and probate offices throughout the state, Coffee County Revenue Commissioner Ronnie Burns said the restraining order will have little effect on his office.

The county's revenue department has historically required a driver's license or identification in the issuance of new permits, Burns said.

Burns awaits the day when a final court ruling will be made on the legality of the immigration law, but said until that day comes "you've got to use some common sense."

Representatives from the SPLC and the American Civil Liberties Union, who have participated in numerous attempts to halt the law's implementation, praised Thompson's ruling as another step towards resolving the controversy surrounding the state law.

"We are extremely pleased that this court has blocked this ill-conceived provision of this law," legal director of the SPLC Mary Bauer said. "This case really shows the truly terrible ways that HB56 is playing out in the real world. There's little doubt this law was intended to drive Latinos out of the state, and that its effects have been to devastate the Latino community in Alabama."

ACLU attorney Justin Cox said Thompson's ruling recognizes just some of the harm's of the law.

"The law encourages racial profiling by targeting Latino families and attempting to force them out of their homes and communities. The ruling is a step in the right direction, but we will continue to try to block this draconian law in its entirety."

Thompson noted in his order, however, that his ruling solely addresses the "as-applied" portion of the immigration law in which the law affects an individual's ability to comply with the state's manufactured home law.

Numerous other provisions of the law, though, have been temporarily blocked since HB 56 went into effect in September.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in October blocked portions of the law challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice and several civil rights organizations that require schools to document the citizenship status of their students by viewing birth certificates and allow law enforcement to charge illegal immigrants with a misdemeanor for willful failure to complete or carry alien registration documentation.

The court did not, however, block other portions of the law that were previously upheld by U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn.

The district judge Sept. 28 upheld a majority of the immigration reform law, including a provision that calls for local law enforcement to detain individuals they have a "reasonable suspicion" may be in the country illegally after committing a prior crime.

Blackburn ruled that portions of the immigration law that prevent state courts from upholding contracts between an illegal immigrant and another individual or business are not in violation of federal immigration law.

The ruling, however, excluded contracts "for lodging for one night, contracts for the purchase of food, contracts for medical services or contracts for transportation for an alien to return to his or her country of origin."

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has not ruled on the law in its entirety. A hearing to appeal Blackburn's ruling has been scheduled for March 12.

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