By Peggy Gargis
BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - The Alabama Senate late on Thursday approved and sent to Governor Robert Bentley a law cracking down on illegal immigration, the latest state to follow Arizona's lead.
In the closing minutes of the second-to-last legislative day on Thursday, the Alabama Senate passed the immigration bill by a vote of 25-7 after lengthy debate, according to the state legislative website.
The bill had previously passed the state House of Representatives with a large majority. Republicans took over majority control of both houses of the Alabama legislature last year for the first time in 136 years.
If Bentley, who is a Republican, signs the bill into law, it would be a crime to knowingly transport or harbor someone who is in the country illegally. The law would also impose penalties on businesses that knowingly employ someone without legal resident status. A company's business license could be suspended or revoked.
The bill also requires Alabama businesses to use a database called E-Verify to confirm the immigration status of new employees.
Bentley's office said on Friday he would review the "very long and somewhat complicated" bill over the weekend before making a decision on whether to sign it.
"Having a strong illegal immigration bill has long been a top priority for the governor," deputy press secretary Leah Garner wrote in an email to Reuters.
As in other states which have passed anti-immigration laws, civil rights and immigrant rights groups are mounting a campaign against the measure, urging voters to contact the governor and ask him to veto the measure.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday said it planned to file a lawsuit challenging the law.
Several states have enacted immigration restrictions, even though the issue is supposed to be the responsibility of the federal government.
"We would be much better off if the federal government would do their job in dealing with this problem, but the fact is, they are not dealing with it adequately," said state Representative Kerry Rich, a Republican and one of the bill's sponsors.
Immigration rights advocates have sued Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia to block these efforts.
Key parts of the Arizona law, which was passed last year, were blocked by the federal courts.
But on May 26, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona's right to require employers to use E-Verify. The court also ruled that Arizona could suspend or revoke business licenses of those companies that knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Also last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked a milder Utah immigration law. The ruling came on the same day the Utah law, passed earlier this year, went into effect.
A hearing is set for June 20 on an attempt to get a preliminary injunction against the immigration law passed this year in Indiana.
A lawsuit was filed against the Georgia law on Thursday.
Opponents of the bill in Alabama said lawmakers should wait for litigation in other states to play out.
"We're wasting valuable state resources," said state Representative Patricia Todd, a Democrat from Birmingham. "People don't realize that when we pass a law and then it gets challenged, guess who has to pay to defend it? Taxpayers do."
(Editing by Greg McCune and Colleen Jenkins)