February 28, 2012 / 1:00 AM / 8 years ago

Civil rights group accuses Alabama of abusing Hispanics

MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - A civil rights group that sued the state of Alabama over an immigration law that is considered the toughest in the nation, said on Monday that it had compiled a list of what it called abuses against Hispanics since the law took effect last year.

The report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, titled “Alabama’s Shame: HB56 and the War on Immigrants,” recounts stories of alleged harassment against Alabama’s Hispanics, both legal and illegal, culled from more than 5,200 hotline complaints fielded since September.

Alabama passed what is widely considered the nation’s toughest anti-immigration law last June, requiring police to detain people they suspect of being in the country illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason, among other measures.

A U.S. appeals court has blocked Alabama from enforcing parts of the law, including a provision that permits the state to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children upon enrollment. But the court left most of the law untouched.

Oral argument over the law’s constitutionality are scheduled to begin in Atlanta on Thursday before a U.S. Court of Appeals.

Among the incidents reported by the center were a young girl who had to endure emergency surgery days after being refused medical care at a clinic. A day laborer asking to be paid reported she had a gun pointed at her by her boss who claimed he didn’t have to pay her, according to the report. A Hispanic U.S. citizen describing being forced to provide “American” identification to make a simple retail purchase.

“If lawmakers are unwilling to repeal (the immigration law) knowing this is the type of misery they have created, we can only assume they intended to inflict this cruelty all along,” said Mary Bauer, legal director for the law center and author of the report.

Republican Senator Scott Beason of Gardendale, Alabama, a sponsor of the law, dismissed the report as posturing.

“I’m not surprised. They (law center) will say whatever, trying to get contributions. I really don’t pay attention to what they say, and I’m not sure a lot of Alabamians or Americans do, anymore,” Beason said.

The law center was formed in the early 1970s to defend the legal rights of African Americans following the civil rights reforms of the 1960s. It was instrumental in some convictions of members of white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan for civil rights abuses against blacks. It has broadened to other discrimination issues in recent years.

Beason said he had been unable to validate similar stories when confronted by them.

The Alabama law has led to embarrassing incidents such as the brief detention of an executive of a German automobile company that has invested millions of dollars in Alabama and created hundreds of jobs.

After this and other incidents, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said the law would be reviewed by the Republican-led state legislature.

A bill to repeal the law has been introduced in the state Senate, but it faces long odds given the broad support for last year’s bill.

There are an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah have passed immigration crackdowns since Arizona blazed the trail in 2010 with a law requiring police to check the status of all those they arrested and suspected of being in the country illegally.

States say that they have acted because the federal government has failed to agree comprehensive immigration reform.

Courts have consistently blocked most of the provisions of the state laws, saying that the federal government has the right to regulate immigration under the U.S. constitution.

Additional reporting by Peggy Gargis in Birmingham; Editing by Greg McCune

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