Federal judge blocks enforcement of Ala. immigration law for at least one month

Alabama state capitol
Alabama's state capitol (photo via flickr/jimbowen0306)

The Montgomery Advertiser reports that Alabama’s new immigration enforcement law, which was set to go into effect on Sept. 1, was temporarily blocked until at least Sept. 29 by U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn.

The judge stressed that the action was “in no way addressing the merits of the motions,” but rather a reflection of the “limited time” that she had to consider all the complaints against the law. The decision should come as some relief to opponents of recent state immigration laws: The managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center, a co-plaintiff in one of the suits against the law, told The American Independent that the Sept. 1 deadline was the “looming date” for immigrant rights activists earlier this month.

Blackburn said she would issue a longer decision addressing all the complaints by Sept. 28. That the complaints — which come from civil rights groups, Alabama residents and the U.S. Justice Department — cover a great deal of ground has a lot to do with the expansive nature of the law itself, which contained a number of provisions that were unprecedented at the state level.

The law would invalidate any contract made with an undocumented immigrant, criminalize renting to undocumented immigrants, require police to check proof of legal residence for anyone detained for a traffic or greater violation, criminalize the transportation of undocumented immigrants, ban undocumented students from attending Alabama public universities and require public schools to count the number of undocumented children who attend them.

Every other state-level immigration law which has included a “papers, please” provision, with the exception of South Carolina’s which takes effect January 1, has been at least partially blocked by a federal judge in anticipation of a resolution of the issue by higher courts. Municipal-level versions of some provisions of the Alabama law, including two instances of criminalization of renting to the undocumented in Hazleton, Penn., and Farmers Branch, Texas, have been blocked by the courts (although the Third Circuit Court of Appeals is revisiting its motion on the Hazleton law).

Both civil rights groups and the federal government also argue that the Alabama law’s public school provision would “chill” the access of undocumented children to a public education, which is protected under a 1982 Supreme Court precedent. The most recent Supreme Court decision related to state immigration laws, Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, permitted states to punish businesses that hired undocumented workers by revoking business licenses but gave no broader input on the question of whether it is appropriate for states to regulate immigration.

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