Alabama asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to allow the state to enforce much of its strict law targeting illegal immigration, and state officials tried to clear up confusion over the crackdown among court officials and police.
The state said in arguments that the Justice Department and a coalition of advocacy groups failed to demonstrate that enforcing the law will cause irreparable harm. The state argued the U.S. District Court in Birmingham considered hundreds of pages of briefs, almost nine hours of oral arguments and more than six weeks of consideration before it upheld parts of the law.
The Justice Department and the advocacy groups have until Wednesday morning to file a response. After that, the court could decide whether to intervene by issuing a preliminary injunction.
The law requires officials to check the immigration status of public school students, allows police to hold suspected illegal immigrants without bond and bars state courts from enforcing contracts such as leases involving illegal immigrants. It also makes it a felony for an illegal immigrant to do business with the state for basic things like obtaining drivers licenses and a misdemeanor for an illegal resident not to have immigration papers.
"Does it really cause harm to the United States when a state informs the federal government of persons who are in violation of federal law, and then leaves it to the federal government to decide whether to initiate deportation proceedings? Does it really harm the United States for the state to gather information about how much it is spending to educate illegally-present children? Of course not," Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange wrote in the filing.
The Justice Department and the coalition of groups asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last week to block the law, at least temporarily, saying it could lead to discrimination against even legal residents. The Justice Department said the law, considered by many to be the most stringent immigration measure in the country, could cause considerable fallout as immigrants flee to other states or their native countries.
The coalition of advocacy groups said the law has thrown Alabama into "chaos" and left some Hispanics too afraid to go to their jobs and reluctant to send their kids to school.
Some in Alabama's Hispanic community are encouraging Spanish-speaking residents and their supporters to skip work Thursday and Friday to protest the law and show that Hispanics are an important part of Alabama's economy.
Parts of the law that took effect last month after a federal judge upheld them help make the Alabama law stricter than similar laws enacted in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges in those states have blocked all or parts of those laws.
Convictions for violating the law have already been reported. Authorities told The Decatur Daily (http://bit.ly/njed6u) that four people arrested during traffic stops late Sunday and early Monday were convicted on charges of failing to have the proper immigration documents. Each agreed to pay $300 in fines and city court costs, and a judge sentenced them to suspended 30-day jail terms and probation. Authorities were holding the four for federal immigration officials.
Meanwhile, there has been confusion among courts and law enforcement agencies about how to enforce the law. The Administrative Office of Courts has issued a memo to court magistrates statewide telling them they don't have to jail people who can't prove their citizenship with a driver's license. It says magistrates can release people on bond while authorities are verifying whether they are U.S. citizens. All the person has to do to be freed is sign his or her name.
The president of the state police chiefs association, Terry Davis, said Tuesday the advice should ease fears of jails filling up.
"I had a chief call me and say he had an officer spend more than three hours on the phone trying to call all these numbers to get information," said Davis, police chief in the northeast Alabama town of Boaz.
The state Homeland Security agency has sent a memo to law enforcement agencies explaining parts of the law, and Strange's office will hold a summit on Thursday that will include a session about it.
AP writer Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., contributed to this report.