Press Release

IACHR Expresses Concern over New Immigration Law in U.S. State of Alabama

June 24, 2011

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the new immigration law enacted in the U.S. state of Alabama, known as H56B.

Alabama's HB56 establishes, among other things, that when any law enforcement officer make a lawful stop, detention, or arrest and a "reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States," a reasonable attempt must be made to determine the person's citizenship and immigration status. The law does not define "reasonable suspicion," which could lead to the use of racial profiling by law enforcement officers. The law also requires public elementary and secondary schools to determine whether a student was born outside the United States "or is the child of an alien not lawfully present in the United States." It also establishes that no court in Alabama may enforce or consider valid the terms of any contract between a party and "an alien unlawfully present in the United States," if the party involved had knowledge of that person's situation. The law also criminalizes activities such as transporting undocumented immigrants or providing them with accommodations or renting housing to them, and prohibits undocumented immigrants from working, looking for work, or do any business transaction with a government agency, such as applying for a driver's license or non-driver identification card, a motor vehicle license plate, or a business license.

The bill was signed into law by the Governor of Alabama on June 9, 2011. Some provisions become effective immediately and others take effect in stages between September 1, 2011, and April 1, 2012.

As the Commission stated with regard to Arizona's SB1070 act, implementing Alabama's HB56 carries a high risk of discrimination. Another troubling aspect is the criminalization of the presence of irregular or undocumented immigrants. As the IACHR has stated before, the detention of migrants should be applied only under exceptional circumstances, and the States must establish immigration laws and policies based on the presumption of liberty. In addition, the criminalization of activities such as transporting or providing accommodation to immigrants could improperly hinder the work of assistance and protection of the defenders of migrants’ human rights.

International law recognizes that countries may establish mechanisms to control the entry and departure of foreigners to their territory. Likewise, international law establishes that a State’s actions in this context must be applied with strict regard for the rights of the people affected and with the observance of fundamental principles such as nondiscrimination and the rights to liberty and personal integrity, which may not be subordinated to the implementation of public policy objectives.

In its Advisory Opinion on the Juridical Condition and Rights of Undocumented Migrants, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights stated that the rights of undocumented migrant workers arise from their circumstances as workers, not the person's migration status. The Court held: "A person who enters a State and assumes an employment relationship, acquires his labor human rights in the State of employment, irrespective of his migratory status, because respect and guarantee of the enjoyment and exercise of those rights must be made without any discrimination."

The Inter-American Commission is troubled by Alabama's HB56 and Arizona's SB1070 laws, as well as by other similar laws that have been enacted in the states of Utah, Indiana, and Georgia. It strongly urges the United States authorities to use the legal mechanisms that are available to amend these laws and adapt them to international human rights standards for the protection of immigrants.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 63/11