Alabama Law on Undocumented Workers' Hiring Barred in Part by U.S. Judge
By Andrew Harris and Laurence Viele Davidson - Sep 29, 2011 12:01 AM ET
A federal judge said Alabama can’t enforce provisions of its new immigration law that bar undocumented people from applying for jobs or working in the state and that prohibit their being harbored or transported.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn in Birmingham, Alabama, ruled yesterday that under the law, state police can make “a reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of a person otherwise detained or arrested, when there’s reasonable suspicion to inquire about that status.
Nothing in the federal Immigration and Nationality Act “expressly preempts states from legislating on the issue of verification of an individual’s citizenship and immigration status,” Blackburn said in her 115-page ruling.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a first-term Republican, signed the immigration measure into law on June 9. After the U.S. government, church leaders and civil rights groups sued to block it, Blackburn issued a provisional order barring its enforcement on Aug. 29, two days before it was scheduled to take effect.
“Yesterday is a victory for Alabama,” Bentley said in a statement posted on his website. “The court agreed with us on a majority of the provisions that were challenged.”
The U.S. had argued that only the federal government is authorized to set immigration policy.
The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing Blackburn’s ruling, Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
‘Will Not Hesitate’
“We will continue to evaluate state immigration-related laws and will not hesitate to bring suit if, in fact, a state creates its own immigration policy or enforces state laws in a manner that interferes with federal immigration law,” she said.
The Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, named in part for its sponsors, Senator Scott Beason of Gardendale and Representative Micky Hammon of Decatur, includes provisions requiring public schools to collect data on the enrollment of children of unlawful residents and criminalizing the failure of illegal immigrants to complete or carry alien registration documents.
Blackburn’s ruling allows Alabama to enforce that part of the law making failure to carry documentation a misdemeanor, as well as the school data portion of the law and a provision enabling police to take drivers arrested without a valid license before a magistrate for determination of their citizenship.
Unlicensed drivers found to be in the U.S. illegally can then be detained for prosecution or turned over to federal immigration agents.
The judge also let stand a provision making it a felony for illegal aliens to enter into business transactions with the state or any of its political subdivisions.
Episcopal Bishop Henry Parsley is a member of one of four Christian groups that sued the state in a separate case, saying the law interfered with their mission to feed and transport people in need. Yesterday’s decision blocks the state from criminalizing such activities, his lawyer said.
“We can conduct our Christian ministries without interference from the state,” Parsley’s attorney, Augusta Dowd, said in a phone interview.
Blackburn issued separate rulings in each of the challenges to Bentley’s immigration legislation. While her rulings in the church leaders’ case closely tracked those in the U.S. lawsuit decision, the judge faced different issues in a case pressed by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
She blocked a state law provision barring those who are in the U.S. illegally from enrolling in public colleges or being eligible for scholarships and financial aid and requiring any aliens enrolled to have lawful permanent resident status or an appropriate visa.
“I think that’s a significant ruling,” ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said in a telephone interview.
The civil-rights group will appeal those sections of the ruling that upheld parts of the immigration act, he said.
“The court acknowledged candidly that in upholding several of the provisions, her decision was in square conflict with those of several other courts,” Gelernt said. “The court also did not discount the very real harms that people in Alabama will suffer as a result of the law.”
‘A National Responsibility’
“Setting immigration policy and enforcing immigration laws is a national responsibility that cannot be addressed through a patchwork of state immigration laws,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an Aug. 1 statement when the federal government sued Alabama.
Defending the measure in court filings, Alabama argued that the U.S. sought an unprecedented application of the doctrine of preemption, to prevent the state from legislating upon what the U.S. asserts is a strictly federal matter.
“Lawsuits have been filed in every state that has passed a strong immigration law,” Bentley said in an Aug. 1 statement e- mailed to Bloomberg News.
“The federal government did not do what it was supposed to do to enforce laws against illegal immigration,” the governor said. “That is why I campaigned on the need for a strong immigration law in Alabama. The legislature passed that law and I signed it. I will continue fighting at every turn to make sure we have a strong immigration law in Alabama.”
Blackburn consolidated the three lawsuits before hearing argument Aug. 24 on the challenges brought by the U.S., church leaders and the ACLU. She dissolved the consolidation order to ease appellate review two days after issuing her Aug. 29 ruling blocking enforcement of the measure.
The cases are Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama v. Bentley, 5:11-cv-2484, Parsley v. Bentley, 5:11-cv-2736, and U.S. v. Bentley, 5:11-cv-2746, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama (Birmingham).
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org.