A Chief U.S. District court judge on Wednesday gave the state of Alabama the go-ahead to implement portions of one of the nation’s strongest laws designed to curb illegal immigration, rejecting the Obama administration’s attempts to block key portions of the bill.
The judge also let stand a provision stating that public schools must determine the legal residency of students and allowing police to detain anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally if they fail to produce proper documentation.
Supporters of the law proclaimed Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn’s decision as a “great victory.” The judge’s decision to let stand the provision requiring public schools to review birth certificates or sworn affidavits to verify a student’s legal residency was one of the more controversial parts of her decision.
“We’re very pleased to see that 85 percent of our law will go into effect and we can finally begin dealing with the problem of illegal immigration in Alabama,” said Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. “The E-Verify provision is among the most meaningful and effective parts of this law. If we’re going to stop the flow of thousands of illegal immigrants into Alabama, we must shut off the magnet that is drawing them here.”
One of the more contentious provisions the judge left standing requires police offers in the state “to make a reasonable attempt” to determine the status of any person that is stopped if there is a “reasonable suspicion” they might be in the country illegally.
Blackburn’s 115-page ruling, issued the day before a temporary injunction was set to expire, will most likely spur the Justice Department to continue to make the case that federal law pre-empts the Alabama law. The judge blocked parts of the bill that would make it unlawful for anyone to transport an illegal resident. However, current federal law makes it illegal for anyone to knowingly harbor an illegal alien.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley issued a statement saying that the ruling is a victory for Alabama.
“During my campaign I promised a tough law against illegal immigration, and we now have one,” said Bentley. “The law that the Alabama legislature passed and I signed is constitutional.”
Other states, including Arizona, have passed similar laws in an attempt to rein in illegal immigration. However, a federal judge blocked a provision in Arizona’s 2010 law that would require police to check the immigration status of persons stopped if officers suspect they are in the country illegally. The case is now on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Obama administration has signaled they are unwilling to enforce immigration laws that are already on the books and that has prompted legislative leaders, including Speaker Hubbard, to address the issue themselves.
“The federal government has failed this country when it comes to immigration and endangered our citizens,” a frustrated Hubbard said in a statement from his office on Thursday. “It has willfully relinquished its responsibility to enforce its immigration law, and now the Department of Justice is trying to take away Alabama’s right to enforce our own laws. If the Federal Government won’t do its job and protect us, we must protect ourselves.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit to block the legislation and several liberal clergy have protested the law, saying that it discriminates against people and will legalize harassment of Latinos. Agricultural and business groups have also expressed concern that the law will cause a labor shortage and damage the state’s already troubled economy.
Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Scott Beason, one of the bill’s sponsors, applauded Blackburn’s ruling and is optimistic the entire law will eventually stand.
“There are still legal questions and there’s still work to be done,” Beason told The Washington Post.
Blackburn’s ruling still allows illegal residents to attend the state’s public colleges and universities – an issue that Governor Rick Perry has been criticized for allowing in Texas.