By Peggy Gargis
BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday blocked parts of Alabama's crackdown on illegal immigration but let stand a provision requiring public schools to determine the legal residency of children.
The Alabama law is widely seen as the toughest state measure on illegal immigration, and supporters hailed the judge's decision as "a great victory."
Chief U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn ruled the state could require police to detain people suspected of being in the United States illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.
She also refused to block a provision requiring public schools to determine, by reviewing birth certificates or sworn affidavits, the legal residency status of students upon enrollment.
But the judge temporarily prevented the state from making it a crime to knowingly transport or harbor an illegal immigrant. Pending a final decision by the court, Alabama also cannot prohibit illegal immigrants from attending its public colleges.
President Barack Obama's administration, church leaders and civil rights and immigrant advocacy groups filed lawsuits seeking to block the measure, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution and would turn into criminals Alabama residents who interact with those in the country illegally.
The law's supporters argue the federal government's failure to curb illegal immigration forced the state to take action to protect its borders and jobs.
Federal judges have previously blocked key parts of other immigration laws passed in Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana.
RULING HEARTENS AND DISMAYS
Supporters of the Alabama law, which passed both chambers of the Republican-led legislature by large margins earlier this year, were pleased that Blackburn allowed what they viewed as its most significant sections to take effect.
The judge's previous injunction delaying implementation of the entire law while she sorted through the legal challenges expires on Thursday.
"Today's ruling is nothing short of a great victory for the state of Alabama and for those who support the rule of law," said House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, a Republican who sponsored the immigration legislation.
"We are quickly learning that once you cut through the rhetoric of those who seek to protect illegal immigrants, there are no facts to support their outlandish claims against this statute."
Under the law, state courts will be barred from enforcing a contract that involves someone unlawfully in the country, and it will be a crime for an illegal immigrant to engage in business transactions with the state.
Blackburn blocked provisions that make it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit or perform work, forbid employers from claiming tax deductions for wages paid to illegal workers, and allow discrimination claims against businesses that hire illegal immigrants instead of legal workers.
Republican Governor Robert Bentley said he would fight to get the full law upheld, and the state's attorney general said officials were weighing whether to appeal immediately or wait until the judge issues her final decision.
Some of the law's challengers also vowed to appeal, saying parts of the law left in place undermine fundamental values of fairness and equality and will cause irreparable harm.
Critics reiterated concerns on Wednesday about the new requirements for law enforcement and schools, saying the provisions would wreak havoc on resources and put personal pressure on educators.
"The teachers already have tremendous responsibilities and now must take on the responsibility of being immigration officials," said David Stout, spokesman for the Alabama Education Association.
Doug Jones, former U.S. Attorney for Alabama's Northern District, said the provisions would open the door to "selective prosecutions, racial profiling and denial of educational opportunities despite the law's statements to the contrary."
(Additional reporting by Verna Gates; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Greg McCune, Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)