Alabama governor signs bill tweaking immigration law

Reuters News
Posted: May 19, 2012 2:09 AM
Alabama governor signs bill tweaking immigration law

By Kelli Dugan

MOBILE, Alabama (Reuters) - Alabama's governor signed into law revisions to the state's controversial immigration statute on Friday, despite his earlier suggestions he might veto the measure because it did not make enough changes to the toughest state crackdown against illegal immigrants.

Republican Governor Robert Bentley had publicly urged lawmakers to modify sections of the law that took effect last year and which sparked lawsuits by the Obama administration and immigrant rights groups that argued it is unconstitutional.

But legislators made only minor changes to the law, which has also been criticized by businesses and farmers in the Southern state, who say it has led to widespread departures of Hispanic workers and created a labor shortage.

Supporters of the bill say it will help create jobs for legal residents by driving out undocumented workers and their families.

"I don't want to lose the progress we have made," Bentley said in a statement after signing the revisions to the bill.

The measure sent to Bentley included two provisions he had initially questioned.

One involves a requirement that the names of illegal immigrants be published if they appear in court on charges of violating state law whether they have been convicted or not.

The revised law also maintains a section from the original law that requires school systems to account for the immigration status of students unable to provide valid proof of residency.

Olivia Turner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said the governor should have pushed harder for changes to controversial parts of the law.

"Governor Bentley had the opportunity to send a message to lawmakers that the racial profiling, discrimination and fear these laws spark must be stopped," she said. "Sadly, he declined. We are hopeful the courts will soon overturn these shameful measures once and for all."

Bentley acknowledged the new law was not without flaws, including the school provision, which has faced legal challenges and is currently suspended by a U.S. appeals court.

"We can re-address this issue if the need arises," he said. "However, as we worked with legislators during the special session, it became clear that the Legislature did not have the appetite for addressing further revisions at this time."

Enough's Enough
Walter E. Williams

Alabama's immigration law also requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain and suspect of being in the country illegally.

Several U.S. states have passed laws seeking to curb illegal immigration, arguing President Barack Obama and Congress have not done enough to address the issue. Many of the state measures face legal challenges. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling is expected by the end of June on the federal government's challenge of Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigration.

An estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants live in the United States and how to deal with them is a contentious political issue.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Peter Cooney)