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Alabama immigration law on mobile homes blocked by judge December 14, 2011

A federal judge has temporarily blocked a part of Alabama‘s tough new immigration law that requires residents to show proof of citizenship when registering mobile homes with the state.

US district judge Myron Thompson of the Middle District of Alabama wrote in a 108-page opinion that the law leaves illegal immigrants “between a rock and a hard place.”

Alabama requires owners of mobile homes to register those properties with the state or face three months in jail, but the new immigration law passed by the state legislature in June also bars illegal immigrants from submitting those registrations, Thompson wrote.

“They can neither stay, nor can they go,” the judge said in his ruling.

That is because the state requires a permit to move a mobile home, and an owner must have registration of the vehicle to move it, the judge found.

The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by two unnamed Alabama residents, with assistance from fair housing groups.

Representatives for the Alabama governor and the state attorney general could not be reached for comment.

The judge found the plaintiffs would likely be successful in their case as it moves forward.

“This decision helps put the brakes on an inhumane law that has already forced some families out of their homes,” Justin Cox, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union immigrants’ rights project, said in a statement.

Thompson in his opinion found the provision of the Alabama immigration law relating to mobile homes infringes on the federal government’s preeminent jurisdiction over immigration matters. He also found the bill may violate the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Latinos.

“By focusing on housing, and thereby on the movement of Latinos into and out of the state” the law “falls outside the authority vested in state legislatures,” Thompson wrote.

In a separate legal challenge, a US appeals court last month blocked Alabama from enforcing part of the new law, including a controversial provision that permits the state to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children upon enrollment.

The US Justice Department has also sued Alabama, saying state lawmakers have no constitutional right to set immigration policy.

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Alabama red-faced as second foreign car boss held under immigration law December 2, 2011

To arrest one foreign car-making executive under Alabama‘s new tough immigration laws may be regarded as a misfortune; to arrest a second looks like carelessness.

A judge has acted to put a Japanese employee of Honda Motor Company out of his misery by dismissing immigration charges against him, three days after he was booked under Alabama’s new immigration laws that have been billed as the most swingeing in America. Ichiro Yada is one of about 100 Japanese managers of the company on assignment in southern state.

Yada was stopped in Leeds, Alabama, at a checkpoint set up by police to catch unlicenced drivers. He was ticketed on the spot, despite the fact that he showed an international driver’s licence, a valid passport and a US work permit.

Key parts of the new immigration law, HB56, came into effect in late September, including the driving provisions. Under them, the police are required to check up on the immigration status of anyone they stop who they suspect of being in the country illegally.

In addition, all drivers are required to carry a valid driver’s licence, either from a US state or from their native country if they are from abroad. The law is designed to trap undocumented immigrants – in practice, Hispanics largely from Mexico – who are no longer allowed to apply for driving licences.

Over the past two months thousands of undocumented Latinos have fled the state and many more have ceased driving for fear of being caught and incarcerated.

Yada is the second foreign car executive to fall foul of the new law. Last month police officers arrested a German director of Mercedes-Benz for failing to carry a valid driver’s licence. The move exposed Alabama to widespread criticism and ridicule.

The St Louis-based Post-Dispatch newspaper revelled in Alabama’s embarrassment by publishing an open letter to foreign car companies encouraging them to pack their bags and move to the rival car-producing state of Missouri.

“We are the Show Me State, not the Show Me Your Papers State,” it wrote, telling auto bosses: “You’ve got two choices. Either ask your executives to carry their immigration papers at all times, or move to a state that understands gemüchlichkeit.”

The inadvertent discomfort of foreign car executives is no joke for Alabama, though. Mercedes-Benz, which opened a plant in Tuscaloosa in 1993, and Honda, which came to Lincoln in 1999, are major employers. Honda has 4,000 employees in Alabama with an investment of about $1.4bn.

The new law has already caused a labour shortage in the state’s important agricultural sector, with tomatoes rotting in the fields after Hispanic pickers fled. The construction industry has also been heavily hit by whole crews of workers downing tools and disappearing.

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Alabama immigration law supporters claim victory over detention ruling October 15, 2011

Supporters of Alabama‘s new immigration law claimed a partial victory on Friday when a federal appeals court upheld a provision that allows police to detain immigrants who are suspected of being in the country illegally.

In a temporary ruling, the 11th US circuit court of appeals blocked parts the new law which requires schools to check the immigration status of students and which made it a criminal offence for immigrants not to carry papers to prove their legal status.

The court issued the order after the Justice Department challenged what is considered the toughest immigration law in the nation. The opinion also blocked a part of the law that makes it a crime for immigrants to not have proper documentation.

But Alabama house speaker Mike Hubbard, who championed the law, the most draconian in the country, said the “most effectual parts” remained in place. “We’ve said from the beginning that Alabama will have a strict immigration law and we will enforce it,” he said. “Alabama will not be a sanctuary state for illegal aliens, and this ruling reinforces that.”

The judges also let stand parts of the law that bar state courts from enforcing contracts involving illegal immigrants and make it a felony for an illegal immigrant to do business with the state for basic things like getting a driver’s license.

Groups who challenged the law said they were hopeful the judges would eventually block the rest of it. “I think that certainly it’s a better situation today for the people of Alabama today than it was yesterday,” said Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the ACLU, which challenged the law along with the Obama administration. “Obviously we remain concerned about the remainder of the provisions, and we remain confident that we will eventually get the whole scheme blocked.”

Alabama Republicans have long sought to clamp down on illegal immigration and passed the law earlier this year after gaining control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Governor Robert Bentley signed the measure, saying it was crucial to protect the jobs of legal residents amid the tough economy and high unemployment.

The law has already had a deep impact in Alabama since a federal judge upheld much of it in late September. Many frightened Hispanics have been driven away from Alabama, fearing they could be arrested or targeted by police. Construction workers, landscapers and field hands have stopped showing up for work, and large numbers of Hispanic students have been absent from public schools.

To cope with the labor shortage, Alabama agriculture commissioner John McMillan at one point suggested farmers should consider hiring inmates in the state’s work-release program.

It’s not clear exactly how many Hispanics have fled the state. Earlier this week, many skipped work to protest the law, shuttering or scaling back operations at chicken plants, Mexican restaurants and other businesses.

The Justice Department has called the Alabama law a “sweeping new state regime” and urged the appeals court to forbid states from creating a patchwork of immigration policies. The agency also said the law could strain diplomatic relations with Latin American countries, who have warned the law could impact millions of workers, tourists and students in the US

The law, it said, turns illegal immigrants into a “unique class who cannot lawfully obtain housing, enforce a contract, or send their children to school without fear that enrollment will be used as a tool to seek to detain and remove them and their family members.”

“Other states and their citizens are poorly served by the Alabama policy, which seeks to drive aliens from Alabama rather than achieve cooperation with the federal government to resolve a national problem,” the attorneys have said in court documents.

Immigration has become a hot-button issue in Alabama over the past decade as the Hispanic population has grown by 145 percent to about 185,600 people, most of them of Mexican origin. The Hispanic population represents about 4 percent of the state’s 4.7 million people, but some counties in north Alabama have large Spanish-speaking communities and schools where most of the students are Hispanic.

Requiring school officials to check the immigration status of students in public schools helped make the Alabama law stricter than similar measures enacted in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges in those states have blocked all or parts of those laws.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer earlier this year asked the US Supreme Court to resolve the legal fight over her state’s tough immigration law.
The Justice Department called the Alabama law a “sweeping new state regime” in court filings last week and urged the appeals court to forbid states from creating a patchwork of immigration policies. The agency also said the law could strain diplomatic relations with Latin American countries, who have warned the law could impact millions of workers, tourists and students in the US

“Other states and their citizens are poorly served by the Alabama policy, which seeks to drive aliens from Alabama rather than achieve cooperation with the federal government to resolve a national problem,” the attorneys have said in court documents.

Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said Friday before the ruling that a team of attorneys is in Alabama trying to determine whether the law was leading to civil rights violations. The school requirement was an area of particular worry, and the federal government is trying to determine how many absentees and withdrawals might be linked to the law, Perez said.

“We’re hearing a number of reports about increases in bullying that we’re studying,” he said after a meeting with leaders and advocates for the Hispanic community.

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US politics live blog: Herman Cain surges, Alabama ‘sickout’, primary calendar chaos October 13, 2011

3.11pm: A genius move by the governor of Alabama. Having introduced crushing legislation targeting undocumented aliens – and anyone who looks like them, just in case – now it turns out so many workers have left the state that … well, it’s hurting business because no-one wants to do all those exciting low-paid jobs.

Mobile’s Press-Register reports that an emergency jobs summit has been called for today:

In the wake of the Alabama’s new immigration law, this afternoon in Montgomery Gov. Robert Bentley plans to announce a new temporary jobs commission.

The governor’s office called the initiative an effort by the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations “to enhance the process by which temporary jobs available today are matched with those looking for temporary work.”

The department is “devoting additional resources to help employers cut through federal red tape to hire additional workers to meet work force needs,” according to the governor’s office.

Really, what did Alabama think would happen?

2.50pm: More of the tensions between New Hampshire and Nevada over election timing that could lead to diplomatic relations being severed.

The excellent Jon Ralston of the Las Vegas Sun speaks to New Hampshire‘s militant leader Bill Gardner, who is holding Nevada hostage by threatening to cancel Christmas:

“I’m just asking Nevada for 72 hours,” Gardner said by phone from New Hampshire, hours after he had declared Nevada should move back to accomodate New Hampshire in this post.

But, I told him, Nevada Republicans want to caucus on a Saturday because it is a multifaceted, time-consuming affair – not simply like voting in a primary.

“There is a Saturday available,” he said.

When?

“After South Carolina,” he said, referring to the fourth-in-nation event now slated for Jan. 21.

Chances of Nevada giving up third to go fourth: Zero.

I suggested to Gardner that to fulfill the New Hampshire seven-day rule, he could schedule his primary on the 7th.

No good, he said.

Why?

It’s Christmas on the Julian calendar. Really. He has been visited by priests.

He also said he only today talked to an Orthodox Jewish state lawmakers who urged him not to schedule the New Hampshire primary on a Saturday. It has always been on a Tuesday, but Gardner previously told me he would consider another day.

“You are bluffing,” I told him. “You will not go into December.”

Silence for a few moments, followed by: “I’m just asking Nevada to move 72 hours.”

The UN may have to intervene.

2.34pm: Some 200 businesses in Birmingham have closed today as part of protests against Alabama’s harsh laws aimed as undocumented immigrants:

Jose Antonio of the Aqui Manda La Jefa Spanish radio station, which is helping organize boycotts designed to showcase the economic impact of Alabama’s Hispanic community, said the station has gotten support for its efforts.

“It’s going good. We have businesses participating in cities across the state,” Antonio said. “They will be closed just for today. The next few days, we are asking Latinos to support only Latino-owned businesses.”

Several Hispanic-owned restaurants across metro Birmingham were closed. On Lorna Road in Hoover, a sign posted on the front door of Amigo’s Mexican Restaurant said, “We will be closed 10/12/11. We will reopen 10/13/11.” In Homewood, the Acapulco Bar Grill on Greensprings Highway, had a similar sign.

2.17pm: It has been a hundred years since the US last had a civil war – but New Hampshire and Nevada are getting close with the battle over the crucial issue of whether or not Nevada holds its caucus on 14 January.

Nevada governor Brian Sandoval fires verbal shots at New Hampshire and its secretary of state Bill Gardner:

We certainly respect Secretary Gardner’s position, but we have a similar responsibility to protect our state’s rights. A caucus is not the same as a primary election. Nevada has chosen January 14 and New Hampshire could easily choose January 10 for its primary and still preserve the intent of its seven-day rule as it applies to primary elections. This issue is really about Florida, not Nevada. Perhaps the Secretary should be asking Florida to change its position.

The last one was about “state’s rights”.

2pm: Asked if he’s just the latest Republican flavour of the month, Herman Cain has taken to telling journalists to call him “Haagen-Daz’s Black Walnut” because “it tastes good all the time”. Really.

Well it turns out … black walnut was a flavour of the month:

When contacted by ABC News, Hazel, at the Haagen-Daz customer service line, said, “We don’t sell black walnut. The sales nationally did not meet our expectations, unfortunately. It did not behoove us to continue with the product.”

“It did not behoove us”? Hats off to Haagen-Daz for employing time travellers from the 19th century.

1.42pm: Another national poll, this time from NBC and the Wall Street Journal, showing Cain at the top of the Republican heap:

Cain checks in as the first choice of 27% of Republican voters in the poll, followed by former Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney at 23% and Perry at 16%. After those three, it’s Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 11%, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 8%, Bachmann at 5% and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at 3%.

In the previous survey, conducted in late August, Perry led the field at 38%, Romney stood at 23%, while Cain was at only 5%.

So Romney hasn’t moved while Perry and Cain swapped about. Again, the suggestion is that Republicans are looking at the alternatives to Romney. They may end up marrying Romney but they sure are having a few one-night stands until then.

1.31pm: Herman Cain has a booklet for sale for $5, entitled Leadership Requires Leadership. No, I am not making that up.

1.12pm: Department of Karma – Curry Todd, the Tennessee legislator who introduced a controversial law allowing handguns to be carried in bars, has himself been arrested on charges of drunken driving and possession of a gun while under the influence:

Todd was coming toward town in a GMC Envoy at about 60 miles per hour in a 40 mph zone and swerving in and out of his lane, according to Metro Police Department spokesman Don Aaron said.

Todd allegedly failed a roadside sobriety test and refused to take a breathalyzer.

A loaded Smith Wesson .38 Special was found in a holster stuffed between the driver seat and the center console.

The Tennessean website has a charming police arrest photograph of Todd here.

12.54pm: Herman Cain, meanwhile, seems to be wriggling on the hook of his 9-9-9 plan, while insisting that it is simple:

Mr Cain made it clear Wednesday his plan remained a work in progress. Visiting Concord, NH, he added several new wrinkles. He would preserve the deduction for charitable donations, making the flat income tax not so flat; he would exempt any used goods, including previously-owned homes and cars, from the national sales tax; and he would allow businesses to deduct new equipment purchases from their 9% corporate income tax, as long as the goods were US-made.

Asked how that would apply to a computer designed domestically but containing Malaysian components and assembled in China, he replied, “I have no idea.”

It’s always nice to have a candidate say that they have “no idea” about their sole campaign plank.

But the other detail here: saying that “previously-owned homes” would be exempt from the 9% national sales tax implies that new homes would be hit with a 9% sales tax.

By itself, exempting used goods from sales tax is fairly standard procedure, since the sales tax would have been paid on the original purchase. But on new homes? Unusual – and terrible politics. And given the state of the US housing market, terrible timing.

12.48pm: Obama says he’s confident that the will prove the US case against the plotters:

What we can say is that there are individuals in the Iranian government who are aware of this plot. And had it not been for the outstanding intelligence work of our intelligence officials, this plot could have gone forward and resulted not only in the death of the Saudi ambassador, but also innocent civilians here in the United States.

We believe that even if at the highest levels there was not detailed operational knowledge, there has to be accountability with respect to anybody in the Iranian government engaging in this kind of activity.

Switching to the jobs bill – Obama again blames the Republicans for their obstruction of his jobs package:

The Republicans haven’t given a good answer as to why they have not agreed to wanting to rebuild our roads and our bridges and our schools. They have not given us a good reason as to why they don’t want to put teachers back in the classroom.

And so what we’re going to do is we’re going to break each of these bills apart. We’re going to say, let’s have a vote on putting teachers back in the classroom. Let’s have a vote on rebuilding our infrastructure. Let’s have a vote on making sure that we are keeping taxes low for small businesses and businesses that are willing to hire veterans, provide tax breaks for further investment that can create jobs. And each time we’re going to ask Republicans to support the bill. And if they don’t want to support the bill, they’ve got to answer not just to us, but also the American people, as to why they wouldn’t.

12.39pm: President Obama is holding a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart.

There’s a question to Obama on the subject of Iran’s involvement in an alleged plot in Washington DC, as revealed earlier this week. Obama described the plot as a “serious escalation” by Iran and again vows tough sanction:

Now those facts are there for all to see and we would not be bringing forward a case unless we knew exactly how to support all the allegations that are contained in the indictment. So we have contacted all our allies, the international community.

We’ve laid the facts before them and we believe that after people have analyzed them, there will not be a dispute that this is in fact what happened. This is not just a dangerous escalation. This is part of a pattern of dangerous and reckless behavior by the Iranian government.

The question – from Ed Henry of Fox News – included a quote from Mitt Romney from the campaign trail (“If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.”) “I didn’t know that you’re the spokesman for Mitt Romney,” Obama replied with a chilling grin.

It was a typically dumb question from Henry. Don’t blame Fox News: he was just as bad at CNN.

12.03pm: On the other hand, Herman Cain is doing pretty well in the latest opinion polls, for what they are worth (not much). The latest national poll of Republican voters from Rasmussen:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of 1,000 Likely Republican Primary voters shows Cain and Romney each attracting 29% of the vote while Gingrich is a distant third at 10%. Texas Governor Rick Perry was the frontrunner when he entered the race and has suffered through a series of poor debate performances while sliding to fourth place at 9%.

Other candidates include Congressman Ron Paul who earns 5% and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann who earns 4%. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman trail at 2% each. Three percent would prefer some other candidate and 7% are not sure.

In a two-way race, 43% would prefer Cain and 42% Romney. Cain leads Perry 54% to 29% in a two-man match and Romney leads Perry 54% to 30%.

The trouble with national polls: they tend not to catch those who actually vote in state-level primaries.

11.49am: Horse-race politics from the dear old Washington Post: “Why Herman Cain can win,” complete with the sight of bets being hedged:

[Cain] is set to embark today on a two-day bus tour from Memphis to Nashville, according to the Post’s Amy Gardner. A trip to Tennessee — not an early state — is not the sort of thing a candidate working to build his credibility and electability would embark on.

In a nutshell: if Herman Cain had a lot of money and a proper campaign organisation he might win! But he doesn’t.

11.25am: So when will the first Republican presidential primary be held? There’s a fight (fight!) going on between New Hampshire and Nevada over … well it’s quite silly really.

Nevada is allowed to go “early” for its caucus – and when big, nasty Florida moved up to 31 January, Nevada shuffled up to 14 January. That forced Iowa to shunt its caucuses along to 3 January, leaving New Hampshire – so proud of its “first in the nation” primary status – to either go somewhere between Iowa and Nevada – or go nuclear.

All power resides in the hands of the New Hampshire secretary of state Bill Gardner – who has just written a statement on the subject, threatening a December election:

My job as NH Secretary of State is to follow our law, which mandates that I set our election seven days or more before any event that would threaten our traditional lead-off status. So if Nevada does not adjust its caucus date to a later time, I cannot rule out the possibility of a December primary.

We cannot allow the political process to squeeze us into a date that wedges us by just a few days between two major caucus states. Our primary will have little meaning if states crowd into holding their events just hours after our polls have closed.

The date of our primary is decided by state law, not by the rules or desires of political parties. Since Nevada’s caucus is similar in the eyes of our statute, it means the New Hampshire primary can be set no later than Saturday, January 7th.

IT’S REALLY UP TO NEVADA. If Nevada does not accept a date of Tuesday, January 17th or later for its caucus, it leaves New Hampshire no choice but to consider December of this year. The dates of Tuesday, December 13th, and Tuesday, December 6th are realistic options, and we have logistics in place to make either date happen if needed. Candidates have been campaigning here, and elsewhere, for months, and it is about time we begin the next stage of the presidential nominating process.

Sounds like he’s not kidding.

11am: Here’s a poll commissioned by Time magazine – showing that the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be more popular than the Tea Party. The poll asked:

Q11. IN THE PAST FEW DAYS, A GROUP OF PROTESTORS HAS BEEN GATHERING ON WALL STREET IN NEW YORK CITY AND SOME OTHER CITIES TO PROTEST POLICIES WHICH THEY SAY FAVOR THE RICH, THE GOVERNMENT’S BANK BAILOUT, AND THE INFLUENCE OF MONEY IN OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM. IS YOUR OPINION OF THESE PROTESTS VERY FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE, VERY UNFAVORABLE, OR DON’T YOU KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE PROTESTS TO HAVE AN OPINION?

VERY FAVORABLE 25%

SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE 29%

SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE 10%

VERY UNFAVORABLE 13%

DON’T KNOW ENOUGH 23%

NO ANSWER/DON’T KNOW 1%

Contrast that with this question in the same poll on the Tea Party:

Q8. IS YOUR OPINION OF THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT VERY FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE, VERY UNFAVORABLE, OR DON’T YOU KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE TEA PARTY TO HAVE AN OPINION?

VERY FAVORABLE 8%

SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE 19%

SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE 9%

VERY UNFAVORABLE 24%

DON’T KNOW ENOUGH 39%

NO ANSWER/DON’T KNOW 1%

In political terms, OWS has a +21 favourability, while the Tea Party has -6.

10.30am: The other big political news of the day is the $70m raised between July and September by the Democratic party for the 2012 general elections.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told AP that more than 600,000 people donated to the campaign in the third quarter, with 98% of the donors giving $250 or less, with an average donation of $56:

Getting to a million grassroots donors isn’t just a huge accomplishment this early in the campaign. It’s our answer to our opponents, the press, and anyone who wants to know whether the president’s supporters have his back.

The total includes $43m for Obama’s re-election campaign and $27m for the Democratic National Committee, which will help Obama’s re-election effort next year. Obama raised $86m combined during the April-June quarter.

It’s a good tiotal for a quarter that includes summer and the holidays – not the best time for political fundraising, especially this year.

The figures show the advantage an incumbent president has in raising money earlier in the campaigning season while his rivals are still competing in their party’s primary. And it overturns any suggestions that the Democratic base is disenchanted.

Good morning: Herman Cain wakes up to more good news today: polls showing him vaulting into the lead of the GOP presidential field while his book I Am Herman Cain! enters the New York Times best-seller list at number four.

But is Cain a credible contender? Many people inside and outside the Republican party say no: for good reason.

Elsewhere, in Alabama protests continue against the state’s stringent new anti-immigrant laws, with the Hispanic community holding a “sickout” protest closing many businesses that rely on their labour.

And the first voiting in the 2012 presidential primaries could still happen in 2011. New Hampshire officials are insisting that they may hold the Granite State’s primary on 6 December – and deny this is an empty threat.

And we will be folloiwng all the other political events of the day, including President Obama’s joint press conference with South Korea’s president Lee Myung-bak.

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Alabama parents prepare for the worst: separation from their kids October 11, 2011

Hundreds of parents in Alabama who fear being rounded up at any time and jailed or deported under the state’s draconian new immigration law are making legal arrangements to have their children placed in the care of relatives or friends.

Lawyers working with Hispanic communities throughout Alabama report a huge surge in recent days in approaches from Hispanic families so desperate about the threat posed by the new law that they are preparing for the worst: sudden separation from their own children. They are drawing up power of attorney letters – documents usually applied to property or business assets, but in Alabama almost exclusively now used for the safe keeping of children.

“This is a real human rights crisis,” said Linton Joaquin of the National Immigration Law Center. “There’s widespread panic, and though parents don’t want to abandon their children they are seeking guardianships for them.”

Shay Farley, legal director of a collective of Alabama lawyers called Appleseed, says they have already drawn up more than 200 power of attorney papers in just one town, Tuscaloosa. A similar clamour for legal help is reported across the state.

“These papers are normally designed to help people protect their main assets, and there can be no greater asset than children,” Farley said.

Trini, an Hispanic mother who did not want to give her last name, took up power of attorney last week. She has arranged for her her two sons, aged 10 and 13, to be cared for by her niece, who is a US citizen.

“I’m afraid I could disappear without anyone knowing what’s happened to me,” she said. “I don’t speak English well, so maybe the police won’t understand me and who knows what would happen to me in jail.”

Trini is in discussions with her family about leaving Alabama. But she is torn, because she does not want to take her sons, who were born in America and thus have US citizenship, out of school.

“They have a right to go to school. They are doing so well there. They play the trumpet and violin. That’s why we’re still here – because of the boys, because of their education.”

Her eldest son, Jesus, said the new law was making him nervous and depressed. “At school we were taught about the Civil Rights period. This is the same thing – it’s happening again,” he said.

“I make good grades, so does my brother. We are normally at the top of our class. I try my hardest to be good. The people making this law, they need to put themselves in our shoes and think about how they’re splitting families.”

Hispanic parents are fearful about what would happen to their kids should they be rounded up under the new law. HB56 came into force at the end of September, and under its provisions police officers are required to check the immigration status of anyone they stop where there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the person might be undocumented.

Should the individual fail to produce valid immigration papers, they can be instantly sent to jail at the start of deportation proceedings.

Five states have now passed immigration laws similar to HB56, but Alabama is the only one that has been allowed by the courts to put elements of the law into effect. The federal Department of Justice, as well as a local coalition of groups and individuals, are both challenging the new law in the US appeals court for the 11th circuit that covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

The lawsuits argue that Alabama’s clampdown on undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to proceed pending a ruling by the US supreme court, the highest court in the nation, on the general principle of whether the individual states or the federal government should determine immigration policy.

“Parents fear they are going to be picked up under the new laws and immediately deported – in essence they will be ‘disappeared’. So they want to make arrangements to ensure that their children will be safe,” said Olivia Turner of the Alabama branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Erica Suarez, 37, took out a power of attorney three days ago, vesting responsibility for her nine-year-old son should she be rounded up in her uncle, a US citizen. Suarez and her husband moved to Birmingham, Alabama from Argentina in 1998, staying in America after their visa expired. Over the past 13 years they’ve tried many times to acquire citizenship themselves, without success.

“I’m very scared,” Suarez said. “The police can stop me and ask for my status, and if I don’t have a driving licence take me to jail for 30 days. What happens to my son in that time?”

She said she decided to vest the power of attorney in her uncle because she didn’t want her son going into a state-run home should she be picked up. Since the law came into effect on 28 September, Suarez has not left her house for fear of being detected, and her husband, who works as a landscape artist, no longer drives for similar reasons.

“This is so sad,” Suarez said, crying on the telephone. “We came here for a better life, and were happy here. It’s hard to go back – I have no home there, no job there. There’s nothing to go back to.”

Her son, who is not being named for his own safety, said: “I don’t want to leave this state. I like it here, and I have lots of friends.”

The boy was born in America and thus is a US citizen. Asked why he thinks the new law was introduced, he replied: “They don’t want Hispanics here.”

Rosa Toussaint Ortiz has agreed to become guardian to the three children of an undocumented mother in her town of Huntsville. Toussaint has US citizenship and works as a community services chaplain in the town.

She says she is not looking forward to the possibility of caring for three young children, but sees it as her duty. “I’m a very busy person and it would be very tough to have to care for them. But what else can I do? If I was in this situation I would want someone else to do this for me. So there’s no choice.”

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