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The Daily Need

Parts of Alabama’s controversial immigration law upheld in court

Brian May, of Birmingham, Ala., signs a petition against Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration on Saturday, June 25, 2011. Despite protests, the law went into effect today. Photo: AP Photo/Jay Reeves

A federal judge in Alabama issued a ruling today that allowed parts of Alabama’s controversial immigration law, widely considered the nation’s strictest immigration policy, to go into effect.

The law, known as HB 56, was passed earlier this year by Alabama’s legislature – the first Republican-led legislature in more than 140 years – and signed on June 9 by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who called it a crucial measure to protect the jobs of legal U.S. citizens in the state. The federal government filed a lawsuit against Alabama over the law, arguing that it infringes on federal authority over immigration policy. The law was also challenged by religious and civil rights groups in Alabama.

HB 56 requires schools to verify the immigration status of students upon enrollment, allows local law enforcement to check the status of people they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented during routine stops and arrests, prohibits renting property to undocumented immigrants, and penalizes companies that employ undocumented immigrants. Additionally, the law makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license, license plate, or business license.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn upheld most of these measures in today’s ruling, saying that they were consistent with federal law, but notably blocked four provisions of the law that:

  • criminalize harboring, transporting or hiding undocumented immigrants
  • make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to seek employment in the state
  • prohibit businesses from deducting wages paid to undocumented workers from their taxes
  • allow for discrimination lawsuits against employers who hire undocumented workers and dismiss employees who are U.S. citizens.

The law was scheduled to go into effect in early September, but Blackburn delayed enforcement while she reviewed the case. However, according to Alabama’s Huntsville Times, the law has already unleashed “unintended consequences” : As soon as the legislature passed HB 56, undocumented workers and their families began to leave the state in droves. Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan told the Huntsville Times that produce was “rotting in the fields” due to the shortage of farm labor. The newspaper also notes that the loss of construction workers was thwarting Alabama’s efforts to rebuild communities devastated by tornadoes in April.

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