by Tom Ramstack
A federal judge's decision to block part of a tough Alabama law against illegal immigration is casting doubt on whether the law will survive a court challenge.
A judge issued a temporary restraining order against part of the law that would prevent illegal aliens from obtaining home registrations on their mobile homes.
Thousands of Hispanic people were threatening to leave the state as soon as this weekend if the judge had ruled in favor of the state law.
The law that created the uproar is Alabama's HB 56, which prohibits "business transactions" between the state and anyone unable to provide documentation of their citizenship or legal immigration status. It also allows police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for a traffic violation.
Section 30 of the law requires mobile home owners to prove their lawful citizenship or residency status before they can renew their mobile home tags.
"This application of Alabama's draconian anti-immigrant law threatens to throw families into the street," said Mary Bauer, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "It's a flagrant violation of the Fair Housing Act and the United States Constitution."
The temporary restraining order gives mobile home owners time to register their manufactured housing before the state's Nov. 30 deadline.
U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson based the order on his finding that the entire HB 56 law is likely to be overturned in a lawsuit filed against it by civil rights groups.
The ruling represented the second setback in less than a week for state efforts to keep out illegal immigrants.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of Utah's tough anti-immigrant law that authorizes local police to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for traffic offenses or as suspects in crimes. The police can arrest illegal immigrants.
The Utah law is modeled on an Arizona law that the Justice Department also is trying to overturn in federal court.
"A patchwork of immigration laws is not the answer and will only create further problems in our immigration system," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "The federal government is the chief enforcer of immigration laws ... it is clearly unconstitutional for a state to set its own immigration policy."
Alabama Sen. Scott Beason and Rep. Micky Hammon, Republican co-sponsors of HB 56, said they were trying to drive illegal immigrants out of the state with HB 56. They denied it was a racist law targeted at Hispanics.
A provision in the law intended to avoid any image of racism forbids racial profiling when state officials refuse service to illegal immigrants.
"I would not have supported the bill if that language had not been there," Hammon testified during the hearing this week on the temporary restraining order.
Other state lawmakers are having second thoughts about HB 56, even some who voted for it when it was approved in June. All but one of the state legislature's Republicans voted for the law.
If Hispanic residents had fulfilled their threat to leave the state this weekend, they would have joined thousands of others who already left soon after the statute took effect in September.
Their exodus has caused a shortage of low-income workers for agricultural, cleaning and other jobs.
Some employers with state contracts have expressed concern they could be convicted of felonies if they inadvertently hire an illegal immigrant.
Six Alabama Republicans have suggested in the past week that the legislature revise HB 56. Even Gov. Robert Bentley, who was one of the law's strongest supporters, told a group of business leaders this month that HB 56 is "very complicated" and needs to be simplified.
The law's supporters suffered an embarrassment recently after an executive from German auto manufacturer Mercedes Benz was stopped for a routine traffic violation. He was visiting the company's large plant, which has helped support the statewide economy and attracted other automakers to build in Alabama.
Because he was unable to prove his citizenship or legal residency, he was arrested until confusion over his right to be in the United States could be cleared up.
The incident helped to fuel rhetoric of civil rights groups trying to overturn HB 56 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
"Once again, Alabama's anti-immigrant, anti-Latino law requires us to resort to the courts to force the state to respect the most basic of civil rights" said Justin Cox, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project. "Alabama should cut its losses now and repeal this hateful law."
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"Alabama Law Against Illegal Immigration Suffers Setback"