U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn has now ruled in the cases challenging Alabama’s new immigration law. On September 28th, she rejected broad federal claims of authority and said that Alabama can begin aggressive immigration law enforcement. Judge Blackburn refused in her ruling to block much of Alabama’s far-reaching immigration law from going into effect. The judge’s orders were in response to three related, but separate, lawsuits attempting to block the law. The suits were brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, by bishops of Alabama’s Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches; and by a coalition of civil rights groups, unions and private citizens who said they would be harmed by the law.
The Justice Department argued, as it had over a similar law in Arizona, that immigration law enforcement rests with the federal government, and that states could not set up their own systems. Blackburn disagreed, saying Alabama’s efforts mirrored the federal government’s or at least were complementary. She blocked parts of the law in the few areas where she found differences. The group of plaintiffs led by the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama said it will seek an emergency delay of Blackburn’s order pending an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Similar and less far-reaching laws in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Utah have been temporarily blocked by the federal courts, but Judge Blackburn found that Alabama’s laws were generally consistent with the intent of Congress, which she said gave the states a supporting role in immigration law enforcement.
Judge Blackburn refused to block Alabama’s authorizing police to conduct immigration checks during routine traffic stops. She left in place Alabama’s sanctions against employers for hiring undocumented workers. She also refused to block a new system requiring public schools to check students’ immigration status upon enrollment and endorsed a ban on enforcing contracts made with illegal immigrants. Judge Blackburn blocked a measure that sought to bar harboring, transporting, encouraging or renting to illegal immigrants.
Judge Blackburn also blocked parts of the law barring illegal immigrants from seeking work, and she blocked the creation of a new traffic penalty for motorists who stop in the roadway to hire day laborers. She also stopped the state from banning illegal immigrants from enrolling at Alabama colleges. While the judge refused to block most sections related to business, she did stop a measure that sought to take away tax benefits for employers who paid salaries to illegal immigrants. Also, Judge Blackburn struck down a provision allowing sanctions against employers who had illegal immigrants on their payroll rather than hiring Americans or legal immigrants.
Judge Blackburn emphasized in her order that blocking a law before it is implemented is a drastic step and requires clear evidence that the Constitution and will of Congress would be violated. In her order dealing with school registration, Judge Blackburn said no individual showed they had been harmed by the law. Since the court’s ruling came down just as this issue was being sent to the printer, I haven’t been able to read the lengthy opinion and have accepted media reports as being gospel. Hopefully, what I have reported is consistent with the content of the court’s rulings. There is one thing that I can say with certainty, however, and that is, this important issue is far from being resolved. I also realize fully there are many problems that Alabama citizens will have to encounter and deal with because of this law’s passage.
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