WASHINGTON -- Some Alabama physicians and physician assistants were surprised this week to receive a letter with a new demand from the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners: Show us your papers.
Under the state's 2011 immigration law, these medical professionals are now required to prove they are U.S. citizens or in the country legally to maintain their licenses to practice, according to the letter, dated May 16.
The immigration law, H.B. 56, was signed into law two years ago. Based on the the much-contested S.B. 1070 in Arizona, Alabama's law is considered the toughest in the country, in part due to its "papers, please" provision that requires police to ask for an individual's immigration status if they have "reasonable suspicion" the person is undocumented. It was designed specifically to drive undocumented immigrants out of the state, but much of it has since been blocked by the courts.
The medical license component did not kick in until this year. Already-licensed physicians and physician assistants now have only two weeks to get their information to the Medical Licensure Commission. Those applying for a license for the first time will be required to either demonstrate they are in the country legally or sign a declaration of U.S. citizenship and give proof, according to the letter. If they don't provide the information, they will not be able to receive or renew their licenses.
From the letter, signed by Alabama Board of Medical Examiners Executive Director Larry D. Dixon:
A person applying for or renewing a professional license is required to sign a declaration of U. S. citizenship and demonstrate U. S. citizenship or demonstrate lawful presence in the U. S., which is then verified by the federal government. After initial demonstration and verification of U. S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence in the U. S. is made, further demonstration of such status is not required.
H.B. 56 initially made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to engage in business transactions with the state, creating problems for people who wanted to buy utilities or register their mobile homes, among other things. Civil rights groups sued the state on behalf of mobile-home owners, and the provision was blocked by a federal judge in November 2011.
When state lawmakers revised the bill last year -- in part to stem concerns that it was driving out business -- they narrowed that provision but maintained the ban on unauthorized immigrants conducting business with the state for professional licenses, such as those for physicians and physician assistants.
Karen Tumlin, a managing attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, said the license requirement seems to susceptible to the same legal problem as the provision affecting mobile-home owners: The federal government, not the state, has the responsibility to verify immigration status.
"We're deeply troubled by what the board is doing here, because once again it raises the constitutional problem with localities determining who has permission to remain in the United States and who does not," said Tumlin, who has worked to block H.B. 56. "And as a practical matter, we're concerned it would lead to duly licensed individuals in the state of Alabama not being able to contribute to Alabama society and pursue their profession."