CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

October 31, 2013

Benedictine Sisters drop immigration suit following state settlement

By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times

— With the state of Alabama agreeing Tuesday to settle the remaining challenges over its toughest-in-the-nation crackdown against illegal immigration, the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman has dropped its own pending lawsuit that was filed in 2011 challenging the law — which has mostly been gutted by federal court decisions in the intervening years.

The state and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a proposed settlement that would end a federal lawsuit over the law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2011, and the state separately filed documents to end a similar suit filed by the Justice Department. Federal courts later blocked main sections, including a one-of-a-kind provision that public schools must check students’ citizenship status.

Courts have blocked key parts of similar immigration laws in Arizona, Georgia and South Carolina and other states.

Three separate lawsuits were filed against the State of Alabama challenging the legality of the immigration law, including suits by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA), and leaders of various church congregations — including the Benedictine Sisters of Cullman and the Benedictine Society of Alabama.

As part of the state’s settlement, it addresses the Benedictine Sisters’ two biggest concerns:  Sections 13 and 27. Section 13 criminalized harboring or transporting an undocumented person; Section 27 provided that Alabama courts could not enforce a contract with an undocumented person.

“Because of the settlement agreement between the federal government and the State of Alabama, our clients have agreed to settle our challenge by dismissing our lawsuit contingent on court approval of this settlement. The settlement includes a permanent injunction against the two primary provisions of the law our clients challenged. With these portions of the immigration law permanently enjoined, our clients’ challenge to HB 56 is no longer necessary, ” Benedictine Sisters legal counsel Lynn McKenzie and Champ Crocker said in a joint statement. “In keeping with Scripture, our clients remember the least of those who are among us and believe that people of faith must be free to exercise their religious beliefs and charitable works without fear of persecution or prosecution. Our clients are grateful for a resolution in this matter. “

ACLU lawyer Cecillia Wang told the Associated Press the Alabama agreement also means a so-called “show me your papers” provision that allowed police to ask for citizenship documents cannot lead to detentions, as many immigrants had feared.

“Overall this is really a significant win for immigrant families in Alabama and anyone who cares about the rights of immigrants,” said Wang, director of the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project.

The agreement permanently blocks sections of the law that were temporarily stopped by courts. The state also agreed to pay $350,000 in attorney fees and expenses for groups that sued to block the law.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has defended the law in court, and Gov. Robert Bentley, who signed the law, and other Republican supporters said it was needed to protect the rights and jobs of legal Alabama residents

Strange said court rulings voided parts of the law, forcing the settlement.

“It is up to Washington to fulfill its responsibility to enforce the country’s immigration laws,” said Strange.

Bentley had no immediate comment on the agreements.

The deal followed the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year rejecting Alabama’s appeal to revive parts of the law, which supporters and opponents billed as the nation’s toughest against illegal immigration.

The school checks never occurred because of legal challenges, and many immigrants who initially fled the state in fear of arrest under the document check provision returned to Alabama.

Agricultural leaders were particularly critical of the law, which they said made it difficult to harvest crops because of a lack of migrant labor, but officials say those labor shortages eased as courts struck down sections of the act.

The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which was heavily involved in the legal challenges, said legislators should repeal the act now that the state has settled the lawsuits.

“We warned the Legislature when they were debating HB 56 that if they passed this draconian law, we would sue in court and win,” Kristi Graunke, an attorney with the organization, said in a statement. “That we have done.”



The Associated press contributed to this story.



Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.