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    Alabama immigration law's 'scarlet letter' list so far has no names

    Alabama immigration law's 'scarlet letter' list so far has no names

    Published: Wednesday, October 03, 2012, 6:00 PM Updated: Wednesday, October 03, 2012, 6:48 PM

    Kim Chandler | By Kim Chandler |

    Demonstrators protest Alabama's immigration law earlier this year.

    MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Alabama's so-called "scarlet letter list," which was supposed to name illegal immigrants who had run-ins with the law, has yet to see a single names posted on a state website.

    A spokesman for the Administrative Office of Courts, which is tasked under state law with compiling the list, said the court system had "no cases" to report for the last quarter.

    Lawmakers approved the controversial list when they made changes to Alabama's immigration law last spring. The provision requires the court system to compile a quarterly list of cases, including names, in which an "unlawfully present alien was detained by law enforcement and appeared in court for any violation of state law." The Alabama Department of Homeland Security is supposed to publish the list each quarter on its website.

    The immigration information, the spokesman said, is a federal designation and not available in the state's computerized court records.

    According to the law, the determination of whether a person is an "unlawfully present alien shall be verified by the federal government" pursuant to the federal code related to immigration status inquiries from local governments.

    J. Scott Vowell, Jefferson County's presiding judge, agreed that he knew of nothing in the electronic court records that could provide immigration status.

    "We don't have the technology available to get the information or to convey it to them," Vowell said.

    Gardendale Republican Sen. Scott Beason, who sponsored the immigration law, replied sarcastically that it was "fantastic" that there had been no illegal immigrants in court.

    However, Beason then added that he expected the court system to find a way to comply with the requirement even if it is having having initial difficulties.

    "My expectation is for them to follow the law," Beason said.

    Beason said he sought the requirement to track the "scope and impact" of illegal immigration in Alabama and to track the outcome of cases.

    "Let us know how this ended up. Did they end up in prison? Did you turn them into ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or did you let them go?" Beason said.

    The database is to include the name of the person, the charge, the presiding judge in the case and the final disposition -- including whether or not the person involved was transferred to the custody of federal immigration officials. The information was to be searchable by county and by judge.

    Mary Bauer, legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which filed a lawsuit last year against the immigration law, had criticized the provision as a "scarlet letter list" that could lead to vigilantism against illegal immigrants.

    But Bauer said this week that she also was not surprised that the provision had not been implemented.

    "It is not surprising that this section and other parts have not been implemented because of they are so overly complicated, burdensome and, of course, unfunded. It's also not surprising because this specific section is aimed to politicize the job and judgment of Alabama's local judges -- which can't be popular with them and many others," Bauer said.

    Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Leah C. Gardner confirmed the AOC reported no cases for the quarter that ended Sept. 30.

    For the previous quarter, the AOC had reported that it had no information because it was in "the process of working with state and local agencies to attempt to develop protocols, procedures, computer programming, and the like that will allow it to attempt to gather and report the data contemplated in Section 5 in an accurate and legal manner."

    Vowell said judges received an e-mail from the AOC late Wednesday afternoon asking them to fill out and submit a form if they had any applicable cases. The e-mail said since there was no way to currently capture the information in the state's automated records, courts were being asked to submit it by hand.

    But the e-mail also noted that the law asked for names of people who had been verified as being unlawfully present by the federal government. Cases where there was no such verification need not be reported, the e-mail said.

    Vowell said he was unsure how often state courts would get that information.

    He added that he also intends to follow the law despite his personal opinion that the provision was not a "good thing."

    Alabama immigration law's 'scarlet letter' list so far has no names |

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