Skip to Main Content

Home > Blog

Alabama’s Anti-Immigrant Law Denies Basic Human Right to Water

Christy Carnegie Fujio, JD, MA, and Jillian Tuck, JD on October 20, 2011

“Attention ALL water customers: To be compliant with new laws concerning immigration you must have an Alabama driver’s license or an Alabama picture ID card on file at this office… or you may lose water service.” (Sign posted in the offices of a public water company in the small town of Allgood, Alabama)

This warning is the manifestation of Section 30 of Alabama’s extreme anti-immigrant law, HB56, which makes it a felony for someone without proper immigration papers to try to enter into a “business transaction” with the “state or political subdivision of the state.” While the law is unclear as to what exactly constitutes a “business transaction” or what state actors are affected, it appears to include contracts with utility companies that provide Alabama residents with the basic essentials of life. Violation of this section is a Class C felony, punishable by up to ten years in prison. This means that undocumented people in Alabama may be incarcerated for a decade for trying to access running water for their homes.

Such denial of basic facilities is part of a harsh reductionist strategy called “attrition through enforcement” which is designed to make life so difficult for immigrants that they will return to their home countries. This doctrine was first articulated by the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies in 2005, and has been increasingly advanced by hard-line Republican Congressmen who are vehemently opposed to comprehensive immigration reform. Ultimately, the goal behind “attrition through enforcement” is to achieve the mass removal of millions of immigrants from the US.

This “self-deportation” avoids both the financial costs and bad press of rounding up immigrant families and deporting them. Hardliners hope they will buy their own tickets because daily life in the US involves such hardship. The fear and intentional dislocation that HB56 is designed to spur seems to be working. Since the law went into effect, Latino families are leaving Alabama in droves. Businesses are closing; employers are wondering where their workers have gone, classroom desks are empty.

Access to clean water is considered a basic human right- just like the right to food and the right to live without torture. The United National General Assembly approved a resolution last year stating so. Although the resolution is not legally enforceable, it symbolically places a political obligation on governments not to restrict access to clean drinking water to anyone who resides within its borders. Alabama’s law is, therefore, not only inhumane, but defies this commitment.

On October 5, the Department of Justice’s request that implementation of the law be suspended until the pending court cases are resolved, was rejected. While the appeal winds its way through the courts, the estimated 130,000 undocumented immigrants in Alabama are at risk of losing or being denied access to clean water. This is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis - right here at home – and virtually no one is reporting on it, except the UK newspaper, The Guardian. Our astonishment that a circumscribed class of people in the US could be targeted for denial of water is rivaled only by our disappointment in the US media for failing to notice.

Places: United States