Judge upholds extreme parts of Alabama anti-immigrant law

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A coalition of civil and immigrant rights group filed an emergency motion Sept. 29 appealing the ruling by a federal judge in Alabama the day before that upholds the most egregious provisions of HB 56, considered the most extreme anti-immigrant state law to date.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn on Wednesday upheld major provisions of the draconian measure authorizing state law enforcement to question and detain, without bond, people they "suspect" may be an undocumented immigrant.

Alabama's Republican Gov. Robert Bentley signed the law in June.

Another provision of the new law, which takes effect immediately, requires Alabama's public schools to verify the legal status of children.

The Justice Department, civil rights groups and some of Alabama's churches sued the state to block the law from taking effect. A motion has been filed to temporarily block the law while the ruling is brought before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Today is a dark day for Alabama," said Mary Bauer, legal director with the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a statement. "This decision not only places Alabama on the wrong side of history but also demonstrates that the rights and freedoms so fundamental to our nation and its history can be manipulated by hate and political agendas - at least for a time."

Alabama's Gov. Bentley and fellow GOP lawmakers hailed the ruling and intend to enforce the provisions upheld. Alabama is the fifth state to enact anti-immigrant legislation inspired by Arizona's SB 1070. Federal judges have previously blocked key parts of immigration laws, similar to Alabama's, passed in Georgia, Utah, Indiana and Arizona. At least 17 other states have considered such measures this year.

The Latino population in Alabama grew by 145 percent to about 185,600 over the past decade. Although Latinos represent 4 percent of the states population, some counties north of Alabama have large Spanish-speaking communities and schools where most of the students are Latino.

After Republicans in Alabama took over the statehouse in Montgomery last year, cracking down on undocumented immigrants became a major driving force.

Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, expressed outrage over the ruling.

"Allowing these provisions to go into law will wreak havoc on the people of Alabama, not just Latinos," she said. "By failing to stop the law's clearly unconstitutional directive to force teachers and schools to ascertain their students' immigration status - a complete violation of a decades-old Supreme Court decision - and allowing the 'papers please' aspect of the law, which legalizes and legitimizes racial profiling, Judge Blackburn's decision endangers the civil rights and public safety of every Alabamian and the education of every child in the state."

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, added the law "is designed to do nothing more than terrorize the state's Latino community and destroy families and businesses." He notes, "The only possible result of HB 56 is a permanent underclass in Alabama that would be further driven into the shadows of society."

Henderson emphasized, "This is a law that clearly harkens back to the segregationist creed of 'state's rights' by preempting the federal government's authority over immigration enforcement. We commend the many civil rights organizations and the U.S. Department of Justice for challenging this law and we urge them to continue to fight it through the appellate process. For the good of Alabama and our nation, this outrageous ruling cannot - and should not - be allowed to stand."

However Blackburn did block several sections of the new law, including parts that barred undocumented immigrants from seeking work or enrolling in public colleges. She also stopped the state from making it a crime to harbor, transport or shield undocumented residents, a provision specifically challenged by some churches.

Meanwhile, as the 2012 presidential election nears, many GOP candidates and conservatives are calling for a hard line on addressing the nation's estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants. They also criticize the Obama administration for suing Arizona and Alabama.

During a roundtable with Latino reporters this week, Obama said Arizona, the first GOP-dominated state to enact an anti-immigrant law, created "a great danger that naturalized citizens, individuals with Latino surnames, potentially could be vulnerable to questioning; the laws could be potentially abused in ways that were not fair to Latino citizens in Arizona."

Obama added, "We can't have a patchwork of 50 states with 50 different immigration laws."

Despite Obama's continued support for federal comprehensive immigration reform, most Republicans, including those who at one time supported bipartisan efforts, have now recanted and are opposed to any reform in Congress.

But back in Alabama, Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition, said in a statement, "Not only will we appeal the court's decision, we will also mobilize and organize Alabamians to repeal this law and stand up for immigrant justice."

Photo: UAB student Meagan Griffin, right, and others march during a student immigration rally protesting the HB 56 near campus in Birmingham, Ala., September 28. (AP Photo/The Birmingham News, Tamika Moore)

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