Four Latino immigrants living in the Montgomery County area have filed suit against the state of Alabama, seeking to block their possible inclusion in a proposed online state database of court appearances by those accused of being in the country unlawfully.
The database was created as part of changes to the state’s immigration law last year. Gov. Robert Bentley signed off on the changes last May. Under the law, the Administrative Office of Courts is required to compile a report of court appearances by those unlawfully present in the country, the name of the judge, the violation and the adjudication of the case. The immigrant is to be included in the database regardless if they were found guilty or acquitted.
“The first thing we see is there’s no way for a person to challenge their inclusion on the list,” said Tomas Lopez, an asttorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, representing the plaintiffs in the case. “The statute just lays out what is to be done.”
A message left with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was not immediately returned Thursday. Asked about the lawsuit, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said Thursday it would be up to the courts to decide it.
Lopez said the plaintiffs are four Mexican nationals, including a mother, her adult daughter, her daughter’s husband and the mother’s niece. According to the lawsuit, the four were arrested for fishing license violations last November and booked into jail. One of the plaintiffs, known as Jane Doe #1, was detained for two days while officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency, wanted to check her status. ICE determined she was in the country unlawfully but did not pursue removal proceedings.
The plaintiffs have a court date “in mid-February,” according to the complaint. The suit says the plaintiffs came to the United States between six and 10 years ago.
The bill making the changes, known as HB 658, had the support of House and Senate Republican leadership, and did not initially include the database provision. Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, who co-sponsored the immigraiton law, known as HB 56, in 2011, inserted it into a substitute to the bill. That substitute removed many of the changes favored by leadership.
he law also requires the Alabama Department of Homeland Security to post the database online. The immigration page of the DHS’ website says that as of Oct. 1, 2012, “no cases have been reported.” Lopez said they hoped the lawsuit would prevent a database from ever being posted. A call to Homeland Security was not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Alabama, argues that the database assumes immigration status is a fixed condition, when it is significantly more mutable.
“The complexity and fluidity of immigration status is a fundamental feature of federal immigration law,” the lawsuit states. “It is a direct consequence of the system of immigration regulation that Congress has prescribed and accommodates many important national interests including, for example, the nation’s humanitarian and international law obligations regarding the treatment of people fleeing persecution or torture.”
The complaint goes on to say that being included in the database would, among other effects, significantly affect their employment opportunities and permanently brand them as undocumented aliens, even if their future immigration status changes.