Alabama Legislature Passes Racial Profiling Law

Arizona Copycat Legislation Threatens Civil Liberties And Interferes With Federal Immigration Law, Says ACLU


June 3, 2011


Montgomery, Alabama – The Alabama legislature last night passed a discriminatory law requiring police to demand "papers" from people they stop who they suspect are not authorized to be in the U.S.  The extreme law, a copycat version of the notorious law passed in Arizona, invites racial profiling of Latinos and others based on how they look or talk, violates the First Amendment and interferes with federal law.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama strongly condemns the legislature’s decision to pass this unconstitutional law and warns of the serious threat it poses to the civil liberties and public safety of all residents of Alabama.


"This law undermines our core American values of fairness and equality and will make the rampant racial profiling of Latinos that is already going on in Alabama that much worse, threatening the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike," said Jared Shepherd, Law Fellow of the ACLU of Alabama. "Requiring police to demand papers from people on the street is a tactic commonly associated with totalitarian regimes, not robust democracies."


Copycat bills have been introduced in states across the country this legislative season, but Alabama becomes one of only four states, along with Utah, Indiana and Georgia, to have passed legislation modeled after Arizona’s extreme law. The Alabama law requires police to demand “papers” from people they stop whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe are in the country unlawfully. To avoid arrest, citizens and immigrants will effectively have to carry their “papers” at all times. The major provisions of the bill would go into effect in September 2011. 


“Immigration status is not something you can accurately determine based on a brief observation or interaction, but this law pretends otherwise.  It invites profiling on the basis of race, ethnicity, and language,” added Mr. Shepherd. “Subjecting people to harassment, investigation and arrest because they are perceived to be foreign is contrary to who we are as Americans.”


The law creates new state-level immigration crimes and penalties, asserts sweeping authority to detain and transport persons for suspected civil violations of federal immigration law and prohibits protected speech and other expressive activity by persons attempting to hire workers or persons seeking work. It also makes it a state crime for immigrants to willfully fail to register with the government and carry registration documents at all times.


“This law threatens the safety and security of all Alabama by diverting already limited resources from law enforcement’s primary responsibility to provide protection and promote public safety in the community. This ill-conceived law sends a clear message to communities that the authorities are not to be trusted, making them less likely to come forward as victims of or witnesses to crime,” said Mr. Shepherd.


The ACLU and a coalition of civil right organizations filed a class action lawsuit in May 2010 challenging Arizona’s SB 1070, the discriminatory law that inspired Alabama’s bill, charging that it invites the racial profiling of Latinos and others deemed to look or sound “foreign,” violates the First Amendment and interferes with federal law. The Department of Justice also filed a lawsuit challenging the law and a federal appellate court recently upheld the Arizona district court decision to block the most troubling provisions of the law. 


“We stand committed to defending the civil liberties of all Americans from unconstitutional laws that lead to racial profiling and ‘papers please’ harassment. The ACLU will continue to be on the front lines fighting discriminatory laws like these across the country,” said Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.