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Top 10 Reasons Alabama’s New Immigration Law Is a Disaster for the Rule of Law

Law Wipes Out Legal Provisions

SOURCE: AP/Dave Martin

Alabama Power linemen work to restore power to neighborhoods in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. While Alabama Power is a nongovernmental electric company and has not required proof of citizenship, under H.B. 56, undocumented immigrants won’t be able to enforce the terms of a contract they enter into with the company.

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“Because of this law, even to check out a book at a Shelby County public library, a patron must prove his citizenship.”

Joey Kennedy, editorial writer, columnist, and blogger for The Birmingham News

The provisions of Alabama’s immigration law will have wide-ranging consequences that will harm both citizens and immigrants alike. Ironically, in the name of enforcing the immigration laws, Alabama is creating a lawless society and completely undermining the rule of law.

The new law requires all residents of Alabama to show their legal papers for virtually every interaction with a state entity. This is a large and unfunded mandate that falls upon all residents of the state, documented or not.

Proving status is harder than it might seem: An estimated 13 million Americans cannot currently prove their citizenship, a burden that falls particularly on the poor, the elderly, and minorities. The mandate also requires state workers to learn how to determine if the papers they are reviewing are legitimate—again a new burden on the state’s finances. There are literally dozens of perfectly legal immigration papers that state workers will have to learn to identify and deem legitimate.

A state with a projected deficit of close to $1 billion for fiscal year 2012 should think twice about imposing these new burdens on already stretched workers.

Additionally, Alabama’s new immigration law prevents courts from enforcing contracts between any party and an undocumented immigrant. And it prohibits any undocumented person from entering into a business transaction with the state or any of its subdivisions.

Therefore, under H.B. 56, Alabama’s new immigration law:

1. Sales contracts are unenforceable. No one who sells something to an undocumented person can enforce the sales contract. If a person doesn’t pay, the seller is out of luck. If the seller doesn’t deliver the goods, the buyer is out of luck. The rule of law no longer applies in the marketplace.

2. Attorney-client confidentiality will be a crime. The new law makes it a crime for a lawyer to refuse to divulge information about their client to government immigration officials. These provisions eliminate attorney-client privilege, a bedrock of effective legal representation. But in a classic catch-22, lawyers who choose to follow the new law could find themselves in violation of state bar ethics rules.

3. Every person will have to “show their papers” to do the simplest of daily tasks—even to check a book out of the library. If you have to show proof of citizenship to do daily tasks, even to check out a library book, you will have to apply for and carry proof of your status everywhere you go. The cost of new driver’s licenses, passports, or birth certificates is not a small burden for a family of five surviving on minimum wage.

4. Labor contracts are unenforceable. Employers can still hire undocumented people but the undocumented workers can’t get a day in court if the employer refuses to pay them for their labor. Bad employers who know the rule of law no longer applies to them can exploit undocumented workers and refuse to pay them or pay them less than the agreed-upon amount.

5. Leases are unenforceable. A rental company in Alabama is already asking for proof of lawful status in order to renew a lease. If a landlord has rented to an undocumented person who refuses to pay rent, the landlord cannot enforce the lease in court. And if an undocumented person has paid their rent and the landlord locks them out or refuses to fix unsafe conditions, they cannot ask a court to enforce the lease.

6. Real estate sales contracts are unenforceable. An undocumented person selling a house would have no resource if the buyer refused to pay the agreed-upon price. And the buyer would have no resource if the seller refused to sign over the deed. Real estate agents could not enforce the payment of their sales commissions.

7. All Alabamans will have to prove citizenship status to get government-run municipal services like water. A sign at a public water company in Allgood, Alabama, warned customers that if they didn’t have a valid ID on file at the office by September 29, 2011, they may lose water service. The new law states that anyone who lacks legal status is considered to be committing a felony if they enter any “business transaction” with any political subdivision of the state. While Alabama Power is a nongovernmental electric company and has not required proof of citizenship, under the law undocumented immigrants won’t be able to enforce the terms of a contract they enter into with the company.

8. No one can get a license without proving citizenship status—not even a dog license. The law requires proof of status for any transaction between a person and the state or municipality. No one will be able to register their mobile home or car, get a construction permit or a business license, or even a dog license without proving their legal status.

9. Every U.S. citizen or lawful resident in Alabama will need to prove their status in order to do any business in or with the state, including paying their taxes. As if paying taxes were not hard enough, the Alabama Department of Revenue has already issued a notice stating that anyone who needs to pay a fee or a tax will be required to prove their citizenship or lawful status.

10. Access to the courts will require proof of legal status. The probate courts have already issued notices that anyone doing any transaction with the courts is required to prove their status. This includes applying for a name change after divorce, applying to probate the will of a family member, or applying for involuntary commitment of a mentally ill child.

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