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Alabama State Immigration Laws

Navigating the U.S. immigration system is challenging. The laws are complicated, and new immigration legislation passes all the time. Each state has its own laws on top of those issued by the federal government, so it's essential to know both.

In this article, we'll look at the following Alabama immigration issues:

Alabama Faces Off With U.S. Government

In June 2011, the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act became law. Under it, businesses seeking Alabama State grants needed to verify the legal status of everyone they hired. They could not knowingly hire immigrants without proper documentation.

Also known as House Bill (H.B.) 56, the law had a variety of provisions that much of the public considered controversial. For example, it granted police powers many construed as civil rights violations. Opponents claimed it gave police abusive authority for immigration enforcement and posed a threat to Latino communities in the state. But, the legislators who sponsored the bill felt it was necessary for public safety.

Like Arizona's SB1070, H.B. 56 required arresting officers to make "reasonable" efforts to learn arrestees' immigration statuses. The bill also barred people without proper documentation from getting public benefits at the state or local levels. It prevented immigrants living here illegally from enrolling in public schools in the state. It also barred them from eligibility for state-funded financial aid.

But in August 2011, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against the State of Alabama in federal court, arguing that "H.B. 56 further criminalizes mere unlawful presence."

In United States v. Alabama, the DOJ argued that the bill gave Alabama police more freedom "to push aliens toward incarceration." The DOJ claimed the bill did so by "enforcing an immigration status verification system." The DOJ argued that H.B. 56 interfered with enforcing federal immigration laws.

Around the same time, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (HICA) also sued the State of Alabama. The coalition argued that H.B. 56 violated civil rights. It said parts of the law relating to law enforcement encouraged racial profiling, among other things.

Since they addressed the same issues, the DOJ's case grouped with HICA v Bentley. And in September 2011, a federal court issued an injunction blocking many parts of H.B. 56.

In December 2011, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange recommended repealing parts of the law, including:

  • The requirement to collect the immigration statuses of public school students
  • The requirement that immigrants carry registration cards
  • The right for citizens to file lawsuits if they believe law enforcement is not effectively enforcing immigration law

In the meantime, Alabama appealed the lower federal court's decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled to keep the injunction in place (and even expanded it) in 2012. The state appealed to the Supreme Court, but the nation's highest court declined to hear the case.

The civil rights groups that sued over H.B. 56 settled with the state of Alabama. The agreement permanently blocked the provisions against which the courts had granted injunctions.

But, the law's requirement that employers verify a person's lawful presence in the country remained in place. The same occurred with some of the requirements for law enforcement.

Law Enforcement and Immigration in Alabama

Under the most current immigration-related laws, Alabama law enforcement officers must attempt to determine the immigration status of people convicted of a crime within their jurisdictions. Before these laws, police had to do so with all those subject to arrest, detention, or a traffic stop. They had to do so whenever there was "reasonable suspicion" that anyone was illegally present in the United States. In the wake of the SCOTUS decision, that changed.

A federal program once required all arrestees' names to enter a database. This program was "Secure Communities." The database checked immigration statuses. Former President Donald Trump renewed the program by executive order in 2017. But President Joe Biden revoked that executive order in 2021.

The Criminal Apprehension Program replaced Secure Communities. It only checks the statuses of those convicted.

Employment Restrictions

Alabama employers cannot knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants. The penalties for violating these provisions target employers' licenses to conduct business in the state. Employers also face tax consequences related to paying wages to unauthorized people. People without proper documentation can't seek or perform work under another provision.

The laws also make it a discriminatory practice for an employer to fail to hire or to fire a U.S. citizen or authorized worker while retaining or hiring a person the employer knows or should know is an unauthorized worker. Employers should refer to the federal employment eligibility verification rules. Check the requirements for Form I-9.

For violating any of these laws, employers can lose their business licenses.

Alabama E-Verify Requirements

As part of Alabama's strict immigration laws, all public or private employers must use E-Verify to confirm that new hires can work.

Driver's License/ID Requirements

The law requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people caught driving without a license. Immigrants without proper documentation can't get driver's licenses in Alabama.

Public Benefits Restrictions

Alabama law bars immigrants from getting state or local public benefits without proper documentation. The law creates some exceptions, clarifying that they can get public benefits such as public health care, immunizations, crisis help, and other public benefits. Federal law bars immigrants living here illegally from getting public benefits. But they can get emergency services "necessary to protect life and safety."

Education Checks

Alabama public schools do not check on students' immigration statuses. State law only allows the enrollment of immigrants with proper documentation at public colleges and universities. But, they are not eligible for state-funded financial aid.

Alabama also does not issue state-funded financial aid to DACA recipients. DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It protects eligible young adults from deportation after their parents brought them to the United States as children. It also gives these young adults work authorization for limited periods. Those periods of work authorization are renewable.

Voter ID Rules

Under Alabama's voter ID law, voters must show a valid photo ID. Some examples include driver's licenses, passports, military IDs, and student IDs.

Under the law, voters unable to show identification can vote. But they must use a provisional ballot, and election officials will verify identity.

Housing Ordinances and Immigration

Under Alabama's recently passed law, it is illegal to knowingly, or in reckless disregard, rent a dwelling to immigrants living here illegally.

Other Immigration Rules

Alabama's recent legislation is some of the toughest of any individual state. Other provisions of the law address a variety of matters, including:

  • Prohibitions against most contracts entered into by immigrants without documentation
  • Bars on "business transactions" with the state
  • Criminalizing immigrants' failure to carry registration documents (now blocked by court challenge)

These are some, but not all, topics in Alabama's immigration law. For the most up-to-date information, contact a local attorney specializing in immigration law.

Still Need Help? Contact an Immigration Lawyer

State immigration laws can be confusing. If you're facing an immigration-related issue, it's always a good idea to contact an immigration attorney. They can help you navigate any immigration-related problem, including deportation, pursuit of a visa, or naturalization. Or you might need help dealing with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Perhaps local law enforcement has harassed you in a traffic stop. Whether your issue is legal immigration or illegal immigration, an attorney can help.

Free or low-cost legal services are available if you can't afford an attorney. Seek the help of legal aid in Alabama to find nonprofit legal services.

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