Alabama lawmakers approve immigration crackdown

BIRMINGHAM, Ala Tue Apr 5, 2011 10:38pm EDT

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - The Alabama state House of Representative passed an Arizona-style crackdown on illegal immigration on Tuesday, despite opposition from Democrats and civil rights groups.

The measure, which passed by 73 votes to 28 on Tuesday evening, would give state and local police broad powers to check the immigration status of people detained on other charges.

It also would require businesses in the state to run checks on new employees through a federal computer database, dubbed an "E-verify," and use a state verification program to deny public services to illegal immigrants.

The bill will now go to the Alabama Senate for a vote.

"We cannot allow Alabama to become a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants," Rep. Micky Hammon, a Republican who sponsored the bill, told the House.

The law is similar to the controversial anti-immigration measure passed by Arizona last year that sparked a legal fight and a confrontation with the federal government.

During a vigorous debate, legislators voiced concerns over the additional cost the crackdown would place on already strained state and civic budgets.

"We would be growing the state government at tremendous cost to local governments," James Busky, a Democrat from Mobile, told the legislature.

Rights groups said they were concerned that it would lead to racial profiling in the state, which has a long history of civil rights violations, and infringe the federal government's duty to enforce immigration laws.

"This is 100 percent the responsibility of the federal government and states cannot usurp that power," said Shay Farley, legal director of the nonprofit Alabama Appleseed organization.

"It will cause more problems that it solves," she added.

In addition to Alabama, Arizona-inspired immigration measures are proceeding through legislatures in Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

In Utah, meanwhile, Republican Governor Gary Herbert last month signed milder immigration legislation that included a guest worker program along with increased police enforcement powers.

But lawmakers in Arizona, Nebraska, Kentucky and Kansas have ditched or killed off tough immigration measures in recent weeks, amid concerns over potentially costly litigation, economic boycotts and the practicality of enforcing the laws.

"At one level, a lot of people realized that many of these reforms are more symbolic than anything else," Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor said.

"Some will get blocked in the courts because (immigration) is really a federal prerogative, (and) others because they are viewed as unconstitutional due to the discriminatory or racial profiling aspect," he added.

Arizona's immigration law required police to investigate the status of anyone they encounter who is suspected of being in the country illegally, although key parts were blocked by a federal judge before it came into effect in July. The state is appealing the ruling.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Greg McCune)

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