Coalition of Unions and Civil Rights Groups File Complaint Against Alabama Immigration Law with United Nations


The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union that represents workers in various service-related occupations, filed a complaint with the United Nations’ International Labor Office (ILO) against the United States government. The complaint centers around HB 56, the controversial immigration law passed by the Alabama Legislature last year. The SEIU alleges that the law denies civil rights and freedom of association to immigrants and minorities in Alabama, and it accuses the federal government of failing to establish an effective national policy on immigration. SEIU representatives filed the complaint with the Committee on Freedom of Association in the ILO’s office in Geneva, Switzerland, and announced it in conjunction with a meeting with Daimler AG executives in Berlin. The SEIU urged the company, which operates a plant in Alabama, to publicly oppose the law.

HB 56 is described as the toughest immigration law at the state level in the country. Alabama’s governor signed it into law in June 2011. The law requires state and local police to inquire about a person’s immigration status if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is undocumented. This has brought up numerous concerns over racial profiling and harassment. HB 56 prohibits anyone from transporting an undocumented immigrant, denies government benefits to undocumented immigrants, and prevents undocumented immigrants from enforcing contracts and other rights in court.

The ILO is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning agency of the United Nations headquartered in Geneva. It deals with international labor standards, both in establishing standards and investigating alleged violations. It can adopt conventions, which countries can ratify, thus establishing a binding international labor standard. In most cases, it issues “recommendations,” which lack binding legal force.

The complaint filed by the SEIU and its allies alleges that the U.S. government wrongfully allowed Alabama to infringe on the rights of trade unions and workers with HB 56. It focuses on three major costs to unions and workers: general civil rights violations against undocumented immigrants, “the climate of fear” that goes beyond undocumented immigrants to affect most racial minorities in the state, and the negative impact on union organizing and enforcement of existing agreements.

The U.S. reportedly has not ratified the ILO conventions that would give it full jurisdiction over the complaint. The U.S. is a member of the ILO, however, so the complaint asks the ILO to investigate possible violations of its conventions and offer remedies that might not be available through the domestic litigation process.

The U.S. Constitution explicitly states that issues pertaining to immigration and nationality are the responsibility of the federal government. Multiple states, most famously Arizona and Alabama, have recently enacted their own immigration laws, some of which may conflict with federal immigration laws in critical ways. This creates a difficult climate for immigrants throughout the country, regardless of their immigration status. The laws in Alabama and Arizona add in the issue of profiling, with local law enforcement charged with identifying possible undocumented immigrants with few guidelines. The SEIU’s complaint is an unusual step towards addressing these issues, but few efforts in Washington have worked so far.

Ohio immigration visa lawyer Gus Shihab helps people understand and navigate the U.S. immigration system, which includes the constantly-changing politics of our immigration laws. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us through our website or at (800) 625-3404.

Web Resources

Complaint submitted to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (PDF), Service Employees International Union, April 2, 2012

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Alabama Immigration Law Shows More Unintended Consequences After Arrest of German Businessman, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, December 7, 2011
Controversy Over State Immigration Laws Comes to Ohio, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, November 15, 2011
Appeals Court Blocks Portions of Controversial Alabama Immigration Law, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, October 20, 2011.