Alabama Law Bans Transporting, Housing Undocumented Immigrants

WASHINGTON -- Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed an immigration bill into law on Thursday that will prohibit transporting or housing undocumented immigrants and require immigrants to carry papers, an even tougher spin-off of Arizona's SB 1070.

The Alabama immigration law, which is set to go into effect on Sept. 1, follows Arizona's lead in requiring police to ask for legal documents if they reasonably suspect someone is in the country illegally.

But the Alabama law goes one step further than SB 1070, which was passed last year and then challenged by the federal government. The Alabama law requires schools to check the citizenship of their students -- even though undocumented children are allowed, under law, to attend K-12 schools -- and penalizes businesses if they do not check immigration status. It also forbids drivers from transporting undocumented immigrants, even though Alabama does not allow people without proper papers to get driver's licenses and transport themselves.

Civil rights groups and Latino advocacy organizations say the law is outrageous, and are planning a series of lawsuits and boycotts to block it from going into effect.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union announced on Thursday they will challenge the law in court.

"Its proponents have called it 'Arizona with a twist.' Well, it is twisted," said Mary Bauer, legal director for Southern Poverty Law Center, on a conference call. "The law is mean-spirited, racist, unconsitutional and costly."

Southern Poverty Center is located in Montgomery, Ala., putting the organization in the middle of the controversial new law. Bauer said the law was likely to have a high economic cost for the state, between lawsuits and potential boycotts.

Arizona had spent $1.5 million defending its immigration law, SB 1070, as of February, and industry groups estimate that boycotts have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

"This law will set back years of progress Alabama has made on civil rights and prove economically devastating for Alabama,” Bauer said. “This is why the Southern Poverty Law Center and other civil rights groups will challenge this racist and harmful unconstitutional law in court.”

Groups such as National Council of La Raza, NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights are looking to use a grassroots movement and economic pressure to block the law.

"I think because of the extreme nature of the Alabama position, it is encouraging more of the grassroots activism that we saw come into play in Arizona," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. "And I think the impact of those actions is likely to be the same, the state will have to modify its law."