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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.

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Police authorities say the law’s wording makes them ripe for lawsuits. As written, the law allows police officers to act on “reasonable suspicion” and require people to produce proof of legal residency. The law also allows people to sue law-enforcement agencies if they feel the agencies aren't doing what the law requires.

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The problem is that no database exists that could easily, or even adequately, verify the numerous documents that show legal status, from work visas to border crossing cards to birth certificates. That makes the law virtually unenforceable, says Professor DeSipio.

“It just doesn’t work,” he says. “A database can have a lot of false positives. In a workplace, that’s not a problem because the employer can give a person a certain amount of time to correct the problem. But parked on the side of a highway in Alabama, there’s not much you can do.”

Local law-enforcement officials in Alabama have protested the bill since Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed it into law June 9. They say that they do not have the training or equipment to verify legal status. They also say the new duties will squeeze departments already facing cuts.

It is not clear “whether any kind of resources will follow the political will or [whether the law-enforcement provision] was meant to be a substantially symbolic statement,” says Professor Horowitz. “This is still going to be a real burden on state and local resources. If the state is serious about the law, it is going to have to provide resources."

In a statement, Governor Bentley said the provisions Blackburn allowed meant Alabama has “the strongest immigration laws in this country,” and he added that the state will likely appeal to a higher court to uphold the provisions blocked by Wednesday’s ruling.

He said the law “was never designed to hurt fellow human beings.” However, he said the bill “would not have been necessary if the federal government had done its job and enforced the laws dealing with this problem.”

Alabama ranks 20th in the nation in terms of number of illegal immigrants, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Illegal workers in Alabama represent 4.2 percent of the state’s labor force.

The size of the illegal-immigrant population in the state has increased rapidly during the past 10 years. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of illegal immigrants in Alabama rose 380 percent, from 25,000 to 120,000 according to Pew. Today, illegals represent 2.5 percent of the total state population.

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