Alabama immigration crackdown nabs Mercedes executive

BIRMINGHAM, Ala Tue Nov 22, 2011 1:14am EST

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala (Reuters) - As Mercedes-Benz executive Detlev Hager negotiated the streets of Tuscaloosa last week, he drove right into the controversy over Alabama's tough new immigration law.

The rental car he was driving, lacking a tag, caught the attention of a local policeman, who stopped Hager on Wednesday. When the officer asked for a driver's license, all he had on him was a German ID card.

"He was taken into custody," Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steven Anderson said.

Under Alabama's new immigration law, considered the toughest in the nation, everyone in Alabama must carry a valid identification card, including U.S. citizens. Before the new law, a citation would have been issued and the driver would have been sent on his way. Now offenders are taken to jail, Anderson said.

A U.S. appeals court last month blocked Alabama from enforcing part of its new immigration law, including a controversial provision that permits Alabama to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children upon enrollment.

But the court ruled the state could continue to authorize police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.

"In international travel, it is not uncommon to have to produce a passport," Greg Canfield, Director of the Alabama Development Office, said after Hager's arrest.

Alabama was widely criticized when it offered massive tax benefits to lure Mercedes to Alabama to open its first U.S. plant. The factory was completed in 1996, and its suppliers have an economic impact estimated at $6.8 billion and 41,830 jobs, according to a report in 2006 Center for Business and Economic Research based at the University of Alabama for the Economic Partnership of Alabama.

"It is really ironic and showed the absurdity of this law. Here you have a foreign employer who has brought many workers jobs ... caught in this web that is supposed to bring jobs," said Mitch Ackerman, executive vice president of Service Employees International Union.

Ackerman was in Birmingham with 11 U.S. Congressmen to protest the immigration law.

Due to a number of unintended consequences including this incident, Republican Governor Robert Bentley, a strong supporter of the bill, was considering revisions, Canfield said.

"This is the type of item we want to address," Canfield said. Hager was held until a fellow passenger retrieved his passport and German driver's license. He was released on a signature bond, according to Anderson.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Johnston)

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