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Immigration law: court upholds key parts of tough Alabama law

Immigration law took a twist Wednesday when a judge upheld a controversial part of an Alabama immigration law that mirrors Arizona's SB 1070. Supreme Court intervention looks likely.

By Staff writer / September 28, 2011

Gov. Robert Bentley talks with reporters outside the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala., Wednesday. Bentley said a federal judge left most of the state's tough new immigration law in place, and it's still the strongest in the nation.

Dave Martin/AP

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A federal judge’s ruling in Alabama Wednesday raises the possibility that, after being repeatedly rejected by courts across the country, a controversial provision that police check the immigration status of people who might be illegal immigrants could be enforced for the first time.

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Several states have passed anti-illegal immigration bills with similar statutes, starting with Arizona's SB 1070 last year. But each law has been put on hold by the courts until now. Chief US District Judge Sharon Blackburn on Wednesday rejected some parts of Alabama's far-reaching bill against illegal immigration. But she upheld the section of the law dealing with residency-status checks during routine stops.

For law enforcement, which has repeatedly opposed such laws, the ruling is raising questions about how such a mandate can be enforced – and whether it will lead to lawsuits over allegations of civil-rights violations.

Appeals from opposition groups are certain, and some experts say the Alabama ruling makes it increasingly likely that the issue will end up before the US Supreme Court. The Arizona case has already been appealed to the Supreme Court, though the court has not yet decided whether it will take the case.

But the high court “doesn’t like similar cases with somewhat different outcomes coming out of different circuits,” says Louis DeSipio, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine.

In her ruling, Judge Blackburn also upheld a requirement that Alabama public schools check the immigration status of students. She blocked other parts of the law, including the prohibitions against illegal immigrants applying for work or penalties for knowingly concealing, harboring, or transporting illegal immigrants in the state.

“It would be impossible to call it a victory for either side,” says Paul Horowitz, a constitutional law expert at the University of Alabama’s law school in Tuscaloosa. The overall ruling shows that “the state can parallel federal law but can’t innovate immigration law.”

For law enforcement, however, the ruling was a defeat.

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