Yesterday U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn did not stop several provisions of Alabama’s HB 56—signed by Governor Robert Bentley on June 9, 2011—in a court ruling following Department of Justice efforts to block the bill. Following Arizona’s SB 1070, Alabama is the fifth state to enact legislation targeting undocumented immigrants and is the first to be upheld. This year federal judges have blocked the implementation of copycat laws in Utah, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina.
In August, the Department of Justice filed a suit against HB 56 at the District Court of the Northern District of Alabama on the basis of its unconstitutionality. In announcing the suit, Attorney General Eric Holder highlighted that “that setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility that cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state immigration laws.” The law was also challenged by countries like Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia, and civil rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Alabama’s HB 56 provisions are more severe than those of other copycat laws and the bill that set off this most recent wave of anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070. With yesterday’s ruling, state law enforcement officials can stop and detain any person suspected of being in the country without authorization and schools are now required to verify the immigration status of students. Judge Blackburn also considered constitutional the sections that nullify contracts signed with undocumented immigrants and that makes it a felony for unauthorized immigrants to apply for official documentation.
The sections that were struck down pertain to labor law including the provisions preventing unauthorized immigrants from seeking work as an employee or independent contractor and criminalizing those who assist the undocumented.
In a press release, Mary Bauer, from the SPLC, said yesterday the 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." The SPLC, ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), and the coalition of civil rights groups challenging the law announced they will appeal yesterday’s decision.
Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.
The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”
Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday ruled to uphold an injunction against controversial Arizona state law SB 1070. In July 2010—only a day before the law was to go into effect—the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit in federal court to block six of the legislation’s toughest statutes. Monday’s ruling agreed with the DOJ’s position that immigration policy falls under federal jurisdiction and not that of individual states.
SB1070 in its original form required state law enforcement to check an individual’s immigration status while enforcing non-immigration-related laws, provided there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person may be undocumented. While the DOJ contested six of the law’s provisions, the rest went into effect on July 29, 2010, and included penalties for municipalities with more lenient approaches to undocumented immigration, as well as sanctions on employers who hire undocumented workers.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who filed a countersuit against the DOJ in February, 2011, will likely take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, because SB 1070 only affects Arizona, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case, in which case the Circuit Court’s ruling would stand.