Monday, December 5, 2011

Sweet Home Alabama? Immigration and Civil Rights in the “New” South

In the next few weeks, the Supreme Court will decide whether to review the constitutionality of Arizona’s high-profile immigration enforcement effort, known popularly as S.B. 1070. Arizona’s law is simply the tip of the iceberg. State legislatures have passed immigration enforcement laws over the last few years at breakneck speed, and, generally speaking, have attempted to make life as uncomfortable as possible for undocumented immigrants. Controversy has ensued. The Arizona law received worldwide attention, international condemnations, and calls for an economic boycott of the state. Paradoxically, these state immigration laws come at a time when the Obama administration has aggressively pressed enforcement, setting all-time records for the removal of noncitizens from the United States, with nearly 400,000 people deported in fiscal year 2011.

Earlier this year, the Alabama legislature entered the fray by passing a tough-as-nails immigration law. The Alabama law builds on the controversial Arizona law but goes considerably further. This piece analyzes what contributed to the passage of the Alabama law and examines what might happen to it as the legal challenges wind their way through the courts.

This essay contends that the civil rights implications for immigrants and Latinos raised by the state immigration laws are in many respects similar to the civil rights issues raised by Jim Crow for African-Americans. This is true even though the current litigation centers on federal preemption doctrine, as opposed to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The current state laws eerily bring back memories of the “states’ rights” defense of segregation. Congress could measurably help address the civil rights concerns through some form of comprehensive immigration reform. The courts and the public should realize that, until the nation grapples with the civil rights impact of its immigration laws, it will continue to generate the sort of heated controversy that surrounds Alabama’s immigration law.

Read more from my Stanford Law Review Online article.


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