SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer Talks Civil Rights And Immigration

Aug 17, 2012

The United States Commission on Civil Rights is in Birmingham today (August 17, 2012) to discuss the effects of the state's recently enacted immigration laws on the civil rights of individuals. The commission will mainly focus on the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Arizona's immigration law on other state's with similar legislation. Mary Bauer is the legal director at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery and is one of the speakers at the hearing. She says the impact of Alabama's law has been far reaching.

"Tens of thousands of people have been estimated to leave the state including many U.S. citizens. It has divided the people of Alabama. It has damaged our reputation throughout the nation and harkened us back to kind of the bleakest days of our racial history.

She says while the aim of Alabama's law may have been immigration reform it had a far different impact.

"This law was about vilifying a vulnerable group of people; scapegoating them for the state's economic problems and the acts of really small minded demagogues who want to point the finger at vulnerable people and blame them for the state's problems.

Bauer says nothing good has come of the law and legal challenges have kept many of the provisions from going into effect. She says after all the legal challenges and wrestling over the law supporters of the immigration law will be worse than when they started.

"I would be fairly confident to say that we believe we will win this case in court and that the state of Alabama will be on the hook for very substantive attorney's fees."

Scott Beason, who sponsored the strict immigration law, in a previous interview with Alabama Public Radio says he stands by the law and feels the law doesn’t require changing.

“It’s done basically everything that we’ve ever said it would do. A lot of people want to talk about unintended consequences. Most of the consequences of HB 56 were intended.”

Alabama is still waiting on a ruling regarding its own immigration law from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Bauer says she expects that ruling any day.

Transcript of Ryan's talk with Ms. Bauer...

(Bauer): We think it’s great for the commission on civil rights to focus on the effects of HB-56 in Alabama. We think they’re really important civil rights issues that need to be talked about. We think the devastating effects of HB-56 deserves a public hearing, so that’s a great thing, we are concerned frankly about that the scope of the panelist does not include sort of, many community members who are affected by the law and that frankly includes a number of people whose position is well established that they’re simply opposed to immigration and in some cases have ties to pretty extreme racist organizations.

(Vasquez): With your experience from the start of this, all the way up to now, can you kind of speak to the impact as to what the law has done to the community, not just the Hispanic community but the community in general in Alabama.

(Bauer): It’s hard to see anything about this law that has been a success and in fact, at this point, virtually most of the provisions of this law are now blocked by the district court or 11 circuit court of appeals. I would be fairly confident to say that we believe we will win this case in court and that the state of Alabama will be on the hook for very substantial attorney’s fees. So, in the end this law was about vilifying a vulnerable group of people, scapegoating them for the state’s economic problems and the acts of really small minded demigods who want to point the finger at vulnerable people and blame them for the states problems.

(Vasquez): That kind of leads me to the question, you touched on it a bit but, where do legal challenges of this law stand currently?

(Bauer): We’re still waiting for the decision of the 11thcircuit court of appeals in out of Atlanta. The panel had said back in March, that they would wait until the Supreme Court ruled to issue their opinion. Nonetheless, shortly after that oral argument they did block or join two of the most damaging provisions, saying that we were likely to prevail on that. So, right after that hearing, they blocked section 27 which was a contracts provisions and section 30 the business transactions provisions. There not in affect now, although we certainly have continued problems with people who believe there in affect. So, we’re waiting, essentially any day for a decision from the 11thcircuit court of appeals.

(Vasquez): Can you kind of speak to the differed action plan means for the states undergoing these immigration law battles and what it means for people in Alabama.

(Bauer): Well certainly there are many more people in Alabama who will benefit from this program. I think we have to understand how limited this program really is that it’s a good thing in a sense that it provides some security to some number of young people who were brought here when they were kids and who certainly deserve that kind of protection but it’s short term and it can be taken away at any time by the next president. It’s not any kind of permanent status and so, we expect that somewhere around two million people could benefit from this short term program and that’s great but I think it does highlight the need for a more comprehensive solutions. I mean you look at kids that were brought here before they’re 16 and who have been living and contributing to this community and it’s hard to see them as anything but American, their American in every way other than under our legal system. They are part of our community and they are part of Alabama and they don’t deserve to be picked up and deported.

(Vasquez): Taking a look at the presidential election that we will be having in a few months here, is there fear from the Alabama contingent people who are fighting on behalf of immigrants. Is there an outcome from the election that will be less favorable for others?

(Bauer): We’re a not partisan organization, so we’re not going to pass judgment on which presidential candidate is likely to achieve better results on immigration reform. I would say, from our perspective, this should be a bi-partisan manner. It was in 1986 when Ronald Reagan lead the fight for a reasonable immigration reform that lead to three million people receiving immigration benefits and it should be a bi-partisan effort now.